Thursday, 9 December, 2021

State 3 enacts law to benefit journalists


Purushottam Khatri

As the fourth estate, media is an autonomous institution that has the responsibility of disseminating information and opinions without fear or favour. This is because it is a public sphere and should serve the broader interest of the public. In discharging its duty, it must follow basic norms, professional ethics, law and code of conduct.
As Nepal became the Federal Democratic Republic following the promulgation of the new Constitution in 2015, the scope of journalism has expanded further. The new charter has guaranteed full press freedom and now federal and state governments have taken various measures to promote professional journalism and ensure the rights of working journalists.
Positive provisions
State 3 seems to be ahead of other states when it comes to supporting the media and deepening its values. The State Assembly of State 3 has approved State Media Management Act-2018 and Regulation-2019 that is related to media’s operation, management, registration, license for running radios, FMs, and TVs and issuance of press accreditation to both working and freelance journalists within State 3.
State 3 government had introduced the Act on December 26, 2018 after its assembly passed the legislation in November last year. The Act has a provision of appointing a Press Registrar who will oversee its implementation.
“We are the first state to introduce own State Media Management Act and Regulation based on constitutional provisions and its Authority and Work Descriptions,” said Rewati Sapkota, Press Registrar of State 3.
Contrary to this, the federal government still follows Press and Publication Act, 1991, which will be replaced by the Media Council bill that is under consideration in Parliament.
According to him, the office of Press Registrar has now started registering, renewing, regulating, maintaining and archiving all media outlets, including the FM radios, cable television networks, print and online media. The new regulation authorizes the Communication Registrar Office to issue license for FM radio operating up to 100 watt and television with 1000 watt capacity.
All media houses - big and small - should now come under the jurisdiction of the Registrar Office when it comes to issuing and renewing the press representative certificates, archiving the media outlets and other related works.
The Registrar Office had already issued press representative certificates to 83 journalists including the freelancers, license to operate one cable television and one radio.
As per the provision, State 3 government has also established journalists’ career development fund under which they can get up to Rs. 75,000 to cure long illnesses and Rs. 30,000 as accident relief amount. It is also mulling to introduce insurance scheme for each journalist working in State 3.
The Communication Registrar Office was also authorised to oversee the flow of press information, production of information materials, publication and distribution and monitoring of the minimum remuneration of the journalists, among others. An information bank will be established comprising the published materials, information, and various decisions taken for public consumption.
“Except in the case of government media which might function under the Federal Media Council Bill, all media outlets must operate as per the new regulations State 3” said Sapkota.
Classification of media
As per the Regulation, the media have been classified as public service broadcasting media, community service broadcasting media and private and commercial broadcasting media based on the physical infrastructure, mode of investment, human resources, objectives, ownership and outreach of the respective media outlets.
“However, the media law unveiled by State 3 does not make sense until the federal government issues new Media Council Act that is necessary for its legitimacy,” said Dhruba Kumar Pokharel, spokesperson at the Department of Information and Broadcasting. He said that State 3 had not consulted the federal government while introducing its separate media law.
Media experts’ warning
Media experts have warned that some provisions of media laws introduced by State 3 are detrimental to press freedom while some states have criminalised media-related offences such as sending journalists to jails.
State 2 has drafted its Integrated Communication Bill-2018 that criminalises the offences of the media. The bill has a provision that a person publishing or broadcasting any products without license will be liable to fines up to Rs. 25,000 or up to one year imprisonment or both.
“Authorities seem to be trying to insert some provisions in such a way that they can be used to control the media,” said Bhuwan KC, chairperson of the Centre for Media Research Nepal that is studying the state media laws. “These laws are being drafted without taking consideration of the spirit of the fourth estate, press freedom and international standards,” he added.
The provision of establishing Media Council in State 2 is also against the National Mass Communication Policy-2073 and existing media related laws of the federal government.
“States are drafting media related laws arbitrarily and most of them are against the constitutional provisions, press freedom and freedom of expression,” said Tara Nath Dahal, who is engaged in a campaign to implement right to information.
The Integrated Communication Bill of State 2 has defined the work, duty and rights of the publishers and broadcasters and intends to scrutinise the contents before they are published or broadcast.
The bill also proposes that the government run its own radio, television and newspapers. The state is planning to introduce its own system of issuing press accreditation card for journalists working in the state and distributing temporary press passes for those coming to the state to get engaged in journalism for a short period of time.
The media Act of State 3 has provisions for scrapping the license and banning broadcast media and publishing political advertisements. It has also a provision of issuing temporary press passes for journalists for short term.
State 3 Communication Registrar will also require at least two copies of books before they are sent to the market for sale, which, according to Dahal, is ridiculous.
Gandaki State seems to be planning to get tough with the online media as mentioned in its draft of Mass Communication Policy. It seeks to regulate online media being run from outside the State and ban those operating without permission, said experts.
Dahal said the government lacked an umbrella law for all states to follow. “Media laws should be uniform in all states,” he said.
(Khatri is a TRN journalist)