Press Freedom Under Threat

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Since the last episode of this column titled ‘Comedy of Errors in Politics’, Rabi Lamichhane’s YouTube link of the press conference he gave is making the rounds globally among Nepalis and those with interest in Nepal. This digitally circulating video, almost two hours long, has raised questions regarding the intention and capacity of the main actor – Rabi Lamichhane, the TV anchor-turned-politician with a 32 days experience of being a Deputy and Home Minister.

Let’s start with the positive notes that this episode has triggered. The Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and KP Sharma Oli, CPN-UML chairman, have succeeded in convincing Rastriya Swotantra Party (RSP) from not backing away from supporting the current coalition government. Although it looks just like the Nepali cliché ‘beating the snake without breaking the stick’, Prachanda seems to have convinced that reinstating Lamichane back in the position of the DPM and home ministry would be a conflict of interest considering the fact that the Supreme Court has yet to give its full report on its verdict related to citizenship rights.

At the same time, Oli has been vocally supporting Lamichhane that his citizenship issue is not an issue that has to be blown out of proportions as if it does not mean anything at all. It is also positive that RSP has retained its support to the coalition government even though they pulled out all their ministers from the government showing solidarity with the fact that the RSP president’s ministerial positions were taken back. In an unexpected political scenario in Nepal, for the first time, the largest elected party - the Nepali Congress - which became the main opposition party that ultimately gave its support to the ruling coalition. 

Positive move

This was a positive move as the market bounced back with positive signs after the formation and support for the coalition was garnered.  The electorates had also indicated that they wanted a full five-year term government with a mixture of old experienced and new youth leaders with new skills and expertise. Unfortunately, the recent Lamichhane episode can indicate a negative trend that Nepal’s politics and aspirant politicians may take in the future. The time has come for the established political parties and leaders together with the new emerging parties and leaders to re-think about what political leadership is all about. 

There are ample example of such luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth, Golda Meir, Maya Angelou, Jacinda Ardern, among others, who have managed to emerge above petty power politics and the longing for fame and wealth. They were able to rise above greed of all kinds, therefore history gave them power, fame and wealth that have remained with their names and works forever.

Lamichhane and the RSP he founded were seen as a spark of silver lining in the darkening clouds that were surrounding the politics of Nepal. Unfortunately, the lashing done by this upcoming leader representing the youth of the country can be seen as an episode that should have been avoided at all costs. Had Lamichhane just left the matter to the Supreme Court, continued to stay in the government by allowing his other ministers to continue to be the ministers and not trying to regain his DPM and Home minster positions, he would have risen in the eyes of not only Nepalis but also in the international scenario.  The formulation and institutionalisation of the party is yet to be done. That is what the leaders need to do. 

The old parties including the Nepali Congress, the CPN- Maoist Centre, the CPN UML, the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), and other Madhesh-based parties have gone through long struggles for ousting the absolute monarchy and advocating for the rights based on gender and social inclusion. Even during the Panchayat system where people were imprisoned for planning a mere meeting for restoring democracy in the country, leave alone speaking against the then government led by the king, the leaders of those parties struggled, risked their lives and institutionalised the parties which have established a federal republic Nepal. 

In this whole process of transforming Nepal into a Federal Republic from absolute monarchy, the press has played a crucial role. During the Panchayat days, journalists were working in an underground mode to make sure the Nepali people were informed about the atrocities of the kingship and that there were both Nepali Congress and the left politicians working on restoration of democracy. The youth of today are unaware of the struggle that journalists and freedom fighter politicians of Nepal have played in restoring democracy and establishing the freedom of press. 

Naming and shaming 

Now, all of the sudden, Lamichhane impudently called a hasty press conference and lambasted the press and resorted to naming and shaming individual well-known journalists and also threatened to surround media houses with his supporters. This behaviour of Lamichhane is unacceptable and exposes him to be puerile and a novice in politics who cannot control his sudden access to power, or the lack of it. 

Definitely there are many places where the media and journalism need to improve. Attacking freedom of press just because a TV anchor-turned-politician feels that his fans, be it in social media or otherwise, will support him in the heat of the moment for being ousted from his easily attained Deputy and Home Minister position shows the lack of maturity and could also indicate that Lamichhane may actually not be capable of handling such an important position as of now.  RSP now needs to focus their full time in strengthening the party and making sure they stand true to the aspirations of their electorates and not on those individual members who misuse their popularity.

(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate namrata1964@yahoo.com Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)

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