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Nepal - World Report 2009

138 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 147 181 sq. km.
-  Population: 29,519,114
-  Language: Nepalese
-  Head of government: Pushpa Kamal Dahal, since August 2008

The press is free, but thousands of journalists work in fear of reprisals from either armed groups or political militants. The risks have reached horrifying levels, with more than 214 threats and assaults in 2008, especially in the south of the country.

The Himalayan country that became a republic in 2008 is a land favourable to independent media. Despite relatively low literacy rates and endemic poverty, there are many daily and weekly newspapers available throughout the country and TV and radio stations, particularly community-run, enjoy growing popularity.

But security has not been restored following the end of the Maoist-led “popular war” in 2006. And in the light of hostile acts towards the press by Maoist militants, the genuine willingness of the majority party to respect media independence seems to be in doubt. Outspoken publications including Himal Media and Kantipur, have been targeted for intimidation campaigns. Militants in the Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) and the All Nepal Communications, Printing and Publications Workers Union (ANCPPWU), are regularly implicated in violence against media seen as hostile to the ruling party.

In the south, which is plagued by violent groups claiming loyalty to the separatist movement of the Madhesi people, national media correspondents are an easy target. Forced self-censorship has made it impossible for there to be a free debate on the future of these southern populations and also threatens the UN-backed peace and democratisation process.

A pattern has emerged in attacks against the press in which journalists who report critically on events are subjected to violence and those carrying it out are not punished. The authorities, including the police, fail to do their job of anticipating attacks, punishing those responsible and repairing the damage. Links between the political parties and some perpetrators of violence, proves collusion on the part of national and local leaders.

The Maoist prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, promised a delegation of press freedom organisations including Reporters Without Borders at the start of 2009 that investigations into cases of journalists who have been killed or disappeared would be reopened. But the police quickly get out of their depth when it comes to identifying those responsible for assaults and threats.

The government promulgated two laws favourable to journalists in 2007, one of which related to the right of access to information. But the absence of clear directives means that media do not get all the information they need for their investigative work.

At the end of 2008, the government signed a ten-point agreement with the Federation of Nepalese Journalists to improve press freedom, but promises were not kept and the violence continues.

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