Journalists protest in Nepal as further media restrictions are reported

New York, May 24, 2005—Hundreds of journalists took to the streets of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, today in a silent protest of reported government moves to amend the media law to impose further restrictions on the press.

The Kathmandu-based dailies Kantipur and Kathmandu Post, citing an unnamed source, reported late last week that officials had moved to adopt amendments to the nation’s media law to limit ownership of multiple news outlets, enshrine wide bans on reporting, and increase the punishment for publishing banned material.

A press agency with close ties to the government disputed the reports.

According to the Kathmandu Post, the revisions would ban publishing news deemed to promote terrorists, terrorism, or destructive activities, or to cause hatred or disrespect to the king or members of the royal family. They would enshrine a current ban on FM radio stations from broadcasting news. The revised law would also ban the importing of foreign publications containing banned material, according to the on-line version of Kantipur.

The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and local human rights organizations condemned the reported amendments, and FNJ called on journalists and other citizens to join today’s rally to protest the government’s move.

The Press Council, a media watchdog group established by the government, today sought written explanation from the two newspapers, calling the reports on new media restrictions “baseless.”

The state-run daily Gorkhapatra quoted Attorney General Pawan Kumar Ojha on May 22 as saying that an ordinance to amend the media law was in the process of being issued. He said that the law’s objective was to “regulate” the media. He did not clarify the contents of the proposed legislation, which has not been made public.

Guna Raj Luitel, the news editor for Kantipur who originally reported the story, told CPJ that the newspapers stand by their reports.

Wide bans on reporting deemed to be critical of the king or supportive of a Maoist insurgency were implemented when King Gyanendra dismissed the multi-party government and called a state of emergency on February 1. Though the state of emergency was lifted in April, many of these restrictions are still in place, including a total ban on FM radio news.

“We call on the government to fully disclose all changes to the law that are being considered,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We also urge the king’s administration to lift current restrictions on the media, including all bans on reporting, and to ensure that any amendments to the media law do not further harm Nepal’s press.”