A Critical Look at Press Council Nepal An Academic PresentationSiromani DhunganaLecturer (Journalism and Mass Communication)Tribhuvan UniversityKathmandu, NepalEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com
Press Council Nepal Press Council Nepal is a statutory body set up by Government of Nepal to promote the standards of a free press in a democratic society and to advise the government on matters relating to the development of healthy and credible journalism in the country. - From Press Council Nepal (http://www.presscouncilnepal.org/introduction.php date retrieved Jan 27, 2013 )
A Brief History of Press Council in Nepal 1957 - The need of such an autonomous and independent body was first realized by the first Press Commission set up . 1969 – The government set up a Press Advisory Council headed by a standing judge of the Supreme Court. 1972, a 12-member Press Council was constituted by the government following the recommendations of New Communications Plan 1971. During the period of 30-year rule of Panchayat system, the Council was constrained to act in conformity with the media policies and laws framed by the government of the time. In the aftermath of the restoration of multi-party democracy in April 1990, the government promulgated a separate Press Council Act in 1992 which defined specifically the principles, functions and responsibilities of the Council.
Press Council Act 1992 in Nepal Article 5 of the act states objectives of the Council: The objectives of the Council shall be as follows:- (a) To create appropriate atmosphere for the development of healthy journalism, (b) To prescribe the code of conduct for journalism with a view to prohibiting the misuse of the freedom of press. (c) To maintain cordial relations between the Press and His Majestys Government. (d) To cause to maintain public morality and dignity of the citizens, and (e) To make continuous efforts to prohibit the interference with the decencies of the freedom of press and journalism.
Press Council Act…Functions, Duties and Powers of the Council:The functions, duties and power of the Council shall be as follows:- (a) To make suggestions to His Majestys Government by reviewing from time to time the policies relating to journalism and by obtaining suggestions from the concerned quarters. (b) To enforce a code of conduct for journalism by drawing it up with a view to development healthy journalism. (c) To make suggestions to Nepal Government for the development of journalism. (d) To keep an up-to date record concerning the circulation of paper. (e) To take necessary actions, upon receipt of any complaint by the Council, as to any news item published in any paper. (f) To submit an annual report to His Majestys Government on the studies and evaluation carried out on the activities and prevailing situation of papers, and (g) To carry out inquiries into the anti-social and objectionable items published in any paper.
Appointment in the council The act clearly says, “His Majestys Government (Government of Nepal) shall constitute a Council, which shall consist of the following persons…” Chairman -- appointed by the government Member -- nominated by the Speaker of House of Representatives Member -- nominated by the Chairman of National Assembly Six members -- nominated by the government with the Journalist Associations at the rate of two persons each from journalists, editors and publishers Member -- nominated by the from among the working journalists Two members -- nominated by the government from among the persons who have rendered distinguished service in the various fields including that of journalism Member -- nominated by the government by Associations concerned with literary journalism Member-secretary -- Director-General, Department of Information
Code of Conduct in Nepal With the consent of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), the Code of Journalistic Ethics - 2003 (amendment 2008) has been brought into effect pursuant to Section 7(b) of the Press Council Act in Nepal. Code of Conduct can be found at: http://www.presscouncilnepal.org/codeofc onduct.php
Need of Structural Reform Existing act says that the Council is an autonomous body having perpetual succession. However, appointments to the Council is controlled by the government – with the government nominating 10 of the 14 members at the Council, including the chairperson. Independence has been questioned many times by professionals land scholars Structural reforms should be adopted to transform the Press Council into a fully independent body which helps it to convert a true „watch-dog‟ mechanism
Dispute over Newspaper Classification Classification of newspapers is done by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, which operates under the Nepal Press Council at present. Many newspaper publishers often blames the Council for being bias and lack of independence, contrary to international standards in this area. The system is supposed to be based on the number of copies printed and the area of distribution of the printed material. However, the current classification system of the council comprise the chances of subjective valuation The classification should be carried out on a commercial basis, not by a statutory media regulator, like the Press Council.
Quasi-judicial body? The council works as a quasi-judicial body since it can recommend to the government for the suspension, in whole or in part, of any privilege or facility receivable by him (her) with respect to a journalist who is in defiance of the professional code of conduct repeatedly. Media professionals say the Council should act as a mechanism to enforce Code of Conduct voluntarily but not as a quasi- judicial body.
Assessment of Electronic Media: AChallenging Task PCN is responsible to enforce Code of Conduct in broadcast media too along with print media. But, according to council itself, there is no arrangement for Council to assess the electronic media in the current Act, there seems to be a lack of knowledge on how to take this work forward. The government also seems unconcerned towards the issue.
Act Amendment to Monitor BroadcastRegime There has been no action into the proposal for amendment in the Council Act, 1992 so that electronic media could also be included in its work area for the Council to perform on a wider range. -- From “Key Progerss Report from April 2010 to Present” Retrieved from: http://www.presscouncilnepal.org/files/country%20report%20final- nepal.pdf
Politicization of the Council Consecutive governments have been failing to ensure the credibility of Press Council by appointing their nearer and dearer in executive role. The function of Council itself has been limited to protect the government rather than helping media to maintain their independence and implementing code of conduct independently.
Reform impossible withoutPolitical Will The Press Council Nepal has two challenges before it: securing independence of the press and making the press accountable. Political will is a must to make PCN to face these challenges. Similarly, media professionals should breakaway from greed and put pressure to government to reform the system. Otherwise, Press Council Nepal will be nothing more than a facility distribution agency to newspapers.
Watchdog of Watchdog? The press is deemed to be a watchdog of the society and the Press Council, in principle, is expected to be the watchdog of the press. It is a forum where people can send the complaints against irresponsible functioning of media. Direct political interference at the watchdog mechanism will do nothing more than converting the Press Council Nepal as „lapdog‟.
Appointment Controversy Continues The Government of Nepal appointed former Supreme Court Justice Abadhesh Kumar Yadav as the Chairman of Press Council Nepal on January 25, 2013. Reportedly, Yadav as the apex court Justice had issued an order to prevent the prosecution of a war-era criminal case against then Maoist lawmaker Keshab Rai. Yadav had stayed the prosecution against Rai in a case related to the murder of Padam Bahadur Tamang in Okhaldhunga, citing that the to-be-formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission would deal with all the conflict-time cases. Yadav‟s order then had run into a serious controversy, as it had set a soft precedent that „cases that occurred during the insurgency cannot be addressed through regular justice system‟, - From The Himalayan Times
Reform agendas still in back-burner Press Council Nepal is still miles away to pursue reform in the existing system of the Council. The reform should be started from the system. World Association of Press Council says: “… Press Councils and similar bodies should be absolutely determined to avoid getting involved with governmental activity".
Challenges of PCN The Press Council Nepal has two challenges before it: securing independence of the press and making the press accountable. Political will is a must to make PCN to face these challenges. Similarly, media professionals should breakaway from greed and put pressure to government to reform the system. Otherwise, Press Council Nepal will be nothing more than a facility distribution agency.
Media Accountability andResponsibility a Global Phenomenon The members of the WAPC reaffirmed their commitment to raise their voices in support of all people to enjoy a free and independent media as a basic human right. They also reaffirmed commitment to assist journalists to achieve high ethical standards in the practice of their craft. DECLARATION World Association of Press Councils Executive Council Meeting March 26-28, 2010