Despite the historic changes of 2006 which guaranteed “full independence of press” and “people’s right to information,” as outlined in the interim constitution, ground realities suggest Nepali press still faces many constraints. According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists, between January 1, 2010 and March 28, 2012, there were 215 instances of violence directed at curbing press freedom, including acts of intimidation, illegal arrest, abduction and murder. This is the reason Freedom House, the independent watchdog of press freedom around the world, ranks Nepali media as only “partially free.”
How vulnerable free and independent media in Nepal is to acts of violence was once again brought to the fore when a group of hooligans stormed into the offices of Nepal Republic Media on Friday and manhandled its journalists and staff, including Kishor Nepal, the editor-in-chief of Nagarik and Shukrabar.
The most worrying aspect of the incident was that neither were the violent protestors, who identified themselves as ‘cadres of Shiva Sena Nepal,’ clear about what they were protesting, nor did they seem to want any explanation on a particular topic from the media house. Above all, they seemed bent on leaving behind a trail of destruction (at one point they even tried to set a part of the office ablaze), apparently because the house was not toeing their line on certain issues dear to their hearts.
As deplorable as Thursday’s developments are, we are afraid these kinds of incidents are likely to increase in frequency the longer the state of the political transition drags on, without any foreseeable end in sight; regressive elements will get increasingly assertive the longer the political and constitutional impasse continues.
Under whatever guises they operate, the larger goal of these forces is not hard to fathom. They want to take the country back to the pre-2006 days by reversing all the important gains in the last six years. The attack on Republic Media should be taken as a troubling signpost towards this dangerous end. Perhaps these forces have been emboldened by those who have used violence to achieve political goals, but as yet remain unaccountable for grave rights violations they committed in the process. Whatever the case, we believe a clear and unmistakable message needs to be sent out: any attempt to curb people’s right to information will be met with strong response from the state.
The role of Nepali media in bringing about the progressive changes in the last six years is undeniable, as is its crucial role in the success of Jana Andolan II. Their role will be no less important in the next few years as the political forces look to get the country’s derailed constitutional process back on track. There is so much that is wrong with modern-day Nepal. The country is without a constitution. The executive is a caretaker one; the legislative is entirely absent; and the judiciary has been severely crippled. In this situation, guarantee of press freedom assumes even more importance. We, for our part, are committed to soldier on, undeterred by these cowardly attacks. We can only hope that the state is as serious about preserving the sanctity of the fourth organ of the state