Monday, June 27, 2022

Regulation or prohibition?


Nepal government's "Directives on Operation of Online News Media 2016" has generated oppositions from agencies concerned, which is not surprising. Two reasons are behind this opposition. First, the directives can violate citizens' rights to freedom of expression. Second, this demonstrates the government's initiative to discourage Nepali society from using advanced communication technology.

Section 21 of the published directive contains a provision of potential blocking of publication. Conditions for blocking as stipulated in first and third points are not subject to objection; however, the government needs to make processes for registration and renewal of online news portals easy and hassle-free. But the second point entails risks of impinging on citizens' fundamental rights. In this regard, Lokaantar is with other online news portals in voicing worries.

Democratic norms consider constitution as the supreme law of the land and any laws contradicting it have to be nullified to the extent of contradiction. That is why rights of citizens provided by the constitution cannot be impinged by a mere directive. Article 19 of the constitution ensures right to communication for online news media just like print and broadcast media.

Regulating online news media is not inappropriate or objectionable in itself. In recent years online media has mushroomed with personal and institutional initiatives to disseminate information without being responsible. The state had to regulate this media but it is totally unacceptable that it has prepared a condition which can impinge upon citizen's rights and press freedom.

Government bears the duty to curb any materials that challenge Nepal's sovereignty, integrity and social harmony but constitutional provision dictates that first it has to frame an Act for "due prohibition". Such an Act does not exist and without it in place a direct order with potential of encroaching citizen's rights cannot be called a wise decision taken by officers in the ministry concerned.

At a time when the message that many provisions in the constitution are against democratic norms have been disseminated at the international level, the government should not have taken a step that can be interpreted as an effort to muzzle press freedom. Thus, immediate revision to the directive is in order.