New York, June 21, 2007—Two newspapers in Kathmandu have suspended publication this week in response to pressure, including death threats, from a Maoist party-affiliated trade union, the All-Nepal Communication, Press and Publications Trade Union. Nepalese journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the trade union action appeared to be aimed at influencing coverage of Maoists.
“We are concerned by the forced suspension of these newspapers, and call on authorities in Nepal to ensure that Nepal Samacharpatra and Mahangar are free to operate without risk of retribution,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.
Private publishing house Kamana Prakashan Samuha stopped publication on Tuesday of major Nepali-language daily Nepal Samacharpatra and sister weekly Mahanagar in response to agitation by distributors seeking to establish the All-Nepal Communication, Press and Publications Trade Union at the newspapers.
The management of Nepal Samacharpatra refused to register the union because the distributors are employed by a separate company, Customer Solutions, according to Pushkar Lal Shrestha, editor-in-chief of Nepal Samacharpatra and executive chairman of Kamana.
“Our argument is that if our own staff wants to form an organization, that is OK,” Shrestha told CPJ. “But if the Maoists are making these demands and they are not members of our staff, how can we entertain this matter?”
Shrestha said that the distributors threatened the management with death if they did not comply with demands to recognize a union within Nepal Samacharpatra, and that protesters, who appeared to be members of the Maoist Communist Youth League, blocked staff members from entering the newspaper offices on Wednesday.
Minister for Information and Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a Maoist party representative, spoke in favor of the protesting workers and called on Nepal Samacharpatra and its contractor, Customer Solutions, to solve the problem, according to the online edition of Kantipur.
The All-Nepal Communication, Press and Publications Trade Union recently threatened to block publication of other major dailies, including the Himalayan Times, Annapurna Post, Kantipur, and Kathmandu Post, unless the management allowed establishment of the union, according to United We Blog, an online publication dealing with media and human rights issues in Nepal. The union is said to have made some inroads although no settlements were publicly disclosed.
Journalists told CPJ that they feared that the actions to establish Maoist-affiliated trade unions would lead to an attempt to use bargaining power to influence coverage.
Maoists, who fought a decade-long insurgency to overthrow the monarchy, joined the government as a political party when public protests forced the king to relinquish political power. Wide restrictions on the press, initiated by King Gyanendra, were eradicated, but violent attacks on the press have become very common.