Press Council Nepal

To, The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology

Press Council Nepal

Date: 2076/02/02

Ref.No. 1433/075/076

 

To,

The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology

Singhadarabar, Kathmandu

Sub: About suggestion/recommendations

 

As you are well aware about the initiatives taken by Press Council Nepal for the timely amendment of 28 years old Press Council Act 2048 that basically focused on print media and obviously could not address the emerging New Media. Hence, we have urged the need for New Act.

We have submitted the draft of the New Act on time to the Ministry after making a wide discussion among the veteran representatives of the media sector including Mr. Kundan Aryal, the then Chief Justice and Press Advisor of Rt. Honorable Prime Minister. On the program dated 15 and 16 Chaitra 2074 (29-30 March 2018), intensive discussion was made over each and every article of the Act. Since then till now, the Ministry has prepared various Bills with the consent of Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs and Ministry of Finance. And last week the latest Bill was forcefully presented in the Parliament without any discussion among the stakeholders. As a result, the conflict, disagreements and the arguments reached this point. In this regard, interaction/discussion was needed yesterday, is needed today and will be needed more in the days to come. Press Council Act Article 7(A) has provisioned for providing suggestion/recommendations to Nepal Government on the issues related with policies and problems of the media sector. The Constitution of Nepal has ensured the complete freedom for the press but there are the cases of breaching the rule as well and this has turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of the media sector. In this context, Board meeting of Press Council Nepal dated 2076/02/01 (15 May 2019) discussed seriously over the recent Media Council Bill presented in the Parliament and decided to submit written suggestion/recommendations (with its opinion) to Nepal Government for solving such issues along with the copy of the minute.

Suggestions/Recommendations:

  1. Except for a few countries, the term “Press Council” is most commonly used. Since the word “press” collectively represents all forms of media, it is not necessary to mention “Media Council”.
  2. The Chairperson should be someone with significant contribution to the field of journalism or law. Thus, the required experience to be a chairperson of the council should be made 25 years rather than 10 years.
  3. Nomination of the Chairman and the Members should not be recommended by the committee led by the Secretary of the Ministry. Instead, as proposed by the previous draft and Council Structure provision passed on 2073, the chair person of the “Recommendation Committee” should be the Speaker of the House of Representatives. As per the hierarchy, the Chairman of the Council is in high post, equivalent to the Justice of the Supreme Court. The existing law has provisioned for two Members of Press Council being nominated from among the members of House of Representatives (1) and of National Assembly (1). India is also exercising this practice till date. From the perspective of regular coordination/cooperation with the Parliament, this provision needs to be continued.
  4. In the draft submitted to the Ministry by the Council, Press Council Nepal has been mentioned as an “autonomous ” body that has been cut down and confined to “self governing and organized ” body. The existing Press Council Act too mentions it as autonomous. The Bill lacks the provision for provincial and inclusive representation. Additionally, it is important to include media consumers in the council. News committee falls under mass media. Thus it should also be included.
  5. The qualification (proposed on the Bill) for the chairperson is 10 years of working experience while the same for members is 15 years and it doesn’t seem logical either from the perspective of policy, condition or from theoretical ground. The autonomy of the Council is affected by the provision that empowers the government to terminate the Chairman or the Members of the Council at any time. As the Government allocates the budget for the Court but remains away from any interruption to its day to day activities, the same policy should be applied for Council as well. 
  6. Age bar for the Chairman: Since the voice is being raised for making Council equivalent to the Constitutional Authorities, the age bar of the Chairman should be 45 years, not 35. And it was proposed in the previous draft.
  7. Fine/Punishment: There is naturally a difference in the writings of the social media and mainstream media. When we talk about the theory, Council could not make the registered/authorized media or journalists pay financial penalty/fine. Hence it is called “Council”. Code of Conducts is not a Hard Law and writing or publishing/broadcasting news/views is not a criminal act. If considered as criminal case, it should be punished/panelized in accordance with other Laws. Fine and financial penalties should not be provisioned in the Press Council Act. Instead, the Council should be authorized for issuing the Press Pass. As practiced by the Bar Council, Press Council should be given authority to suspend or cancel the Press pass and deny them from facilities and services in case of serious/repeated breaching of Code of Conducts. Code of Conducts is not a law, but moral binding. In case of Moral Codes, there is no fine/penalty and indemnity.
  8. If the Chairman of the Council has executive authorities, then the members too should be appointed and retired along with the chairman.
  9. Since the Chairman is the Head of the Organization, there should not be any confusion whether someone else also is the Head of the Organization.
  10. In the Council Act, there should be provisions for: Press Court in Session, similar to the Military, Labour, Trade and Administrative Session, for looking after the press related cases and/or to mediate between the victim and the media through dialogue and making consensus; providing the title of “Senior Journalist”; conducting the examination of code of conducts; training system etc.
  11. The proposed provision of the Bill that “The Government can give the directions to the Council that the Council should obey” may give the impression that the New Media Council is similar to the Department or Branch of the Ministry. This provision should be removed.
  12. The proposal of nominating the Acting Chairman of the Council by the Ministry opens the risk of interference at any time. The record shows that the Court has interrupted such actions in the past.
  13. The proposed Bill has mentioned “Media Council” but it has not ensured the representations from various genres of the media such as online, radio, tv, print media. This should be added.

 

Kishor Shrestha

Acting Chariman

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