•      Tue Jul 23 2024

Media Council Bill must promote independent media

Pabitra Guragain

Kathmandu, June 20: “The Media Council Bill must give due space for an independent media industry.” Press freedom fighters and journalists who gathered at a dialogue on the Bill here on Wednesday were univocal that the government/State is never supposed to have any kind of control over media in any pretext in a democracy.

They pitched that the proposed Media Council (that will be replacing the existing Press Council) be independent, accountable to citizens and liable to the parliament, expressing concerns over the ‘likelihood’ of its establishment as a government entity.

Sharing his assessment about the Bill before the gathering, advocate Santosh Sigdel urged the government to deal with the Bill through the perspective of press freedom, which is vital for the effective implementation of the Constitution. He sought clear space in the Bill for the establishment and promotion of an independent media industry.

Giving his view against the concept of ‘decent journalism’ envisaged by the Bill, he said it is not the job of the government to set limitations for media in the name of decent journalism. It will promote moral policing against media and it is up to media to practice and promote responsible journalism.

Senior journalist and press freedom fighter Taranath Dahal said “The Bill sees the proposed Media Council as a part of the government. However, it   must be established as an independent media regulatory body with its liability towards the parliament.”

Expressing his reservation to the special provision about the appointment of the Council Chairperson (Clause 15), he said seeking the role of bureaucrats ( secretary) in the hiring to firing procedures,  is not something desired by the media industry and the media persons. This role should be shared with the legislature as well, proposing the involvement of the National Assembly Chairperson and a House of Representative member in the appointment. Some provisions in the Bill are regressive, he added.

Another senior journalist Suresh Acharya cautioned that the media sector will not be accepting the Bill if it is passed in its current form. The Council should remain under the regulation of the parliament, not the government. State’s control over media contents can’t be entertained under any circumstances.

Senior journalist Nirmala Sharma argued that inclusion in each State structure is the agenda of the State, as envisaged in the Constitution.  The proposed Media Council should address the issues in the same spirit. Any Bill either it is Media Council or others are constitutionally bound to strengthen democracy and press freedom.

Press Council Nepal’s Chairperson Balkrishna Basnet said no State structure could be established going against the Constitution. He also proposed that the Bill should address the issue of digital journalism.

The Bill is presently under discussion in the National Assembly’s Legislation Committee, after it was tabled before the upper house by the government on April 18 earlier this year.

Committee Chairperson Jayanti Rai assured that the Committee will take feedback of the participants over the Bill seriously and trying to adjust them thereby, ensuring its wider acceptability.

The dialogue was organised by the Nepal FM network with the support of UNDP Parliament Support Project. #rss #nepal #media

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