Majority of the infl uential editors of the broadsheet dailies, television channels and radio stations would confi dently assert that they have been pretty much free to disseminate whatever they want through their media. When they are confi dently proclaiming the freedom of the press after 2006 people’s movement and subsequent promulgation of the interim constitution, they are mainly referring to the government-imposed censorship.
In that sense, they are not wrong. All governments after 2006 have ensured total press freedom, and the media have been free to criticize even the head of the government. But that is only a part of the story. In fact, Nepali press is only “Partially Free” as the Freedom House index says, which journalists Binod Bhattarai and Raghu Mainali also say in this book. And I agree with the core message of this book. Irrespective of the beliefs of senior journalists and the editors about freedoms, journalism is dying a slow death in Nepal.
Journalism cannot be free only because there are constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. There are various obstacles on the road to freedom and these have resulted from lack of competence, fi nancial insuffi ciency to run media, political affi liation, corporate interests, criminal interests, and all. This book by Bhattarai and Mainali elucidates the pressure points, and portrays how journalists kneel down in the face of those hurdles. Nepali journalism is embracing self-censorship in the name of survival, at both the central and local levels, and that process is killing journalism.
The political affi liation of Nepali journalists is the fi rst and foremost cause of self-censorship in Nepal. Most of the journalists have memberships in journalist organizations, which are again affi liated to one or the other political party. So, some
journalists are continuously trying to protect ‘bad’ news about one party or other, or always trying to over-expose whatever information on small lapses they manage to collect about the
‘other’ party. In a way, the overall coverage of political news is balanced due to two opposite extreme points, but only for the people who can afford time and money to scan through different media and have ability to analyse the news.
The mafi a and corporates are behaving correspondingly, as if in unison, to gag the press. At the central level the corporates have become very powerful in controlling media, at least not to let it go against them. Some of the corporates have become so intolerant that the inference of their brand in some features would also be vehemently opposed. The editors are forced to comply to their demands timidly, if not they lose heavily on advertisements they pull out. At the local level, the mafi a have a similar impact. Their existence and their illegal transactions are not unknown to local journalists, but they cannot report about them. They willingly impose self-censorship, also because they are receiving some favours. Even if they are not, they cannot take stand against the criminals, who can physically harm them or their families. In the absence of government protection, and the apathy of their central offi ces, the journalists are but forced to resort to practicing self-censorship.
Killing Journalism, Softly is about the past, present and future of censorship and journalism in Nepal. This book depicts the situation of the press freedom in the country, beyond the legal guarantees. Coming from two veterans of the Nepali media, it is must read for all who are concerned about the people’s right to know and press freedom in this new republic.
Though this book is mainly about self-censorship, the writers may as well plan to write another one on censorship by government. As I sit down to write this, the democratically elected government after the November 2013 elections seems all set to curb press freedoms. A bill tabled in parliament by the government on contempt, in the name of protecting the public image of the judiciary, seeks to curb some freedoms guaranteed by other laws to media and journalists. If the bill is passed without changes, Nepal could jump into the ‘not free’ category on the Freedom House index. I hope researchers and writers on press freedom spot the deterioration in the free expression environment sooner, and bring it to the public’s notice.