Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The media environment reached a plateau in Nepal during 2007, following significant improvements in 2006 as a result of dramatic political change in which massive street protests forced an end to King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev’s direct rule in April. Although an interim constitution was promulgated in January 2007, the Nepali government has not been fully successful in implementing the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, as tensions with Maoists and Madhesi unrest in Terrai have indefinitely delayed the holding of constituent assembly elections. Despite significant improvements in law and order following the 2006 cease-fire, attacks on the press by both Maoist and Madhesi groups were common in 2007.
Beginning in May 2006, the interim government rescinded many laws that severely limited press freedom, including the government’s ability to revoke journalists’ press accreditation and to impose high fines for publishing banned items, bans on private radio news broadcasts, and criminalization of criticism of the royal family. In June, a high-level media commission was formed to further review media laws and practices, and in December 2006, an interim constitution was signed that provides for press freedom and specifically prohibits official censorship. Nevertheless, some international and local press freedom watchdogs expressed concerns over provisions that might be misused to obstruct press freedom, such as ones that allow the government to restrict publication of certain information by enacting laws or to completely suspend rights during emergencies. Improvements in the legal environment continued in 2007, with the interim parliament’s passage of the Right to Information Act, which gives Nepali citizens the right to obtain information from government bodies and nongovernmental organizations supported by the government, foreign states, or international organizations. Furthermore, in August, the interim parliament amended the Working Journalists Act, which now provides journalists with improved working conditions and legal rights, including the right to unionize.
Although the interim government and Maoist leadership promised to respect press freedom and reduce the violence against journalists that was commonplace under Gyanendra’s rule, violence and intimidation toward journalists increased in 2007. Journalists still face harassment from militant Maoist and Madhesi groups, local-level officials and politicians, police and military forces, and criminal groups, especially when reporting on sensitive topics. Between January and June 2007, Reporters Sans Frontieres reported that at least 72 journalists were threatened or attacked, with at least 2 journalists killed. While mainstream Maoist intimidation has decreased, the Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) was responsible for attacks, including in August when YCL members attempted to abduct a journalist for Dristi Weekly’s. Maoist-affiliated unions also threatened newspapers, forcibly shutting down production and advertising of the Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post for several days in July and August. On October 5, Maoists abducted and killed Birendra Shah, a journalist in Bara affiliated with Nepal FM, Dristi Weekly’s, and Avenues TV. Journalists have also faced violence related to the Madhesi movement. Nine newspapers in western Nepal were forced to stop publishing in early January following threats from Madhesi groups. In late January, demonstrators set fire to a radio station and attacked journalists in Birgunj, leading several to flee the area after they were included in a published list of reporters against whom action should be taken. In February, cadres of the Madhesi Janatantrik Forum, a Madhesi political party, attacked five journalists covering a protest in eastern Nepal.
Additionally, although those responsible have not been identified, Shankar Panthi, a journalist with the pro-Maoist paper Naya Satta Daily, was found dead in September in the western town of Sunawal, upon his return from covering the destruction of a YCL office. During the year, at least two other journalists were abducted, including the Kanchanpur-based journalists Prakash Singh Thakuri in July and Pappu Gurung in October. Although cases involving government forces were less frequent, police and soldiers have mistreated journalists in some instances. In July, two police constables in the eastern district of Morang assaulted editors for the Samyantra weekly newspaper after it published an article implicating the two officers in local corruption. On November 16, authorities briefly detained 39 journalists who were protesting the government’s failure to investigate Birendra Shah’s death. With dozens of cases of threats and attacks documented throughout the year by groups such as the Kathmandu based Federation of Nepalese Journalists and the Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies, journalists’ ability to operate freely, particularly in the rural areas, remains constrained. In response to the growing threats to Nepalese media workers, a coalition of newspaper, magazine, and television editors established the Editors Alliance in September.
The government owns several of the major English-language and vernacular dailies; these news outlets generally provide progovernment coverage. Hundreds of private publications, some with particular political viewpoints, provide a range of diverse views, and many have resumed their critical coverage of sensitive issues such as human rights violations, the insurgency, and corruption. The government owns both the influential Radio Nepal, whose political coverage is supportive of official policies, and Nepal Television Corporation, Nepal’s main television station. Private FM and community radio stations, which together with the national radio network reach some 90 percent of the population, flourished prior to the 2005 coup and are a primary source of information, particularly in rural areas. Although censorship and news bans caused the closure of many stations under Gyanendra’s direct rule, since 2006 many radio journalists have returned to their jobs, and by October, the government had awarded licenses for 6 new television channels and 50 FM radio stations across the country. During 2007, there were no reports that access to foreign media was banned or censored. There were also no reports that authorities monitored e-mail or blocked websites, although the internet was accessed by less than 1 percent of the population in 2007.