Interview- Press freedom is the first condition of democratic State: Minister Sharma
May 3 each year is observed as the World Press Freedom Day in commemoration of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press issued in Windhoek in Namibia in 1991. The Day was first observed in 1993 following the recommendation of UNESCO.
This year, the Day is observed with the theme – “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for all Other Human Rights”- set by UNESCO.
The role of media is vital for informing the citizen in the modern era. Democracy gets strengthened when the media, considered the ‘fourth estate’ of the nation, is effective, efficient and credible.
It would not be wrong to say that the celebration of the Day is itself a call to the media and its stakeholders to remind them of their duties and responsibilities towards society and the world at large. Basically, the celebration of the Day is itself a global commitment to challenge any attempts to squeeze the role of the Press.
The government is in the course of increasing the effectiveness of the media regulating system to promote media credibility and reliable, safe and accessible use of communications and information technology as per the demand of time.
Government Spokesperson and Minister for Communications and Information Technology Rekha Sharma said the formulation of a new act and laws aiming to prevent an emerging issue of IT abuse is in progress.
Here are edited excerpts from an interview with Minister Sharma by RSS Feature news chief Krishna Adhikari and correspondent Ashok Ghimire on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.
Q: Today is World Press Freedom Day; how is the government looking at it?
Answer: First of all, I wish to extend my greetings to the entire media fraternity and those standing for the cause of freedom of expression and opinion on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. I express my tribute to all those who lost their lives during struggles for the Free Press and the freedom of expression. I here acknowledge the contribution of all those who have contributed to the movements for freedom of expression. The role of media in the development, enhancement and consolidation of democracy is commendable. I hope the media will continue to act fearless for the exercise and promotion of the rights achieved following tremendous efforts.
I wish the scale of the free Press we exercised to date should remain as it is and it is not expected to go down even by an inch. Press freedom is an agenda raised for a long. We went through numerous political ups and downs.
We were the witnesses to episodes of autocracy. Press freedom is the first and foremost requirement for any of the States to function democratically. It is the first condition for any State to be democratic. The government totally favours the concept of a free Press and its practice. Press freedom has been established as the fundamental right of the citizens. The government is always and will be in favour of the Free Press.
It is almost unimaginable to envisage a consolidated democracy in the absence of Press freedom. A free Press carries the spirit of democracy and serves as its backbone. Democracy and a free Press are two sides of a coin. There is no counterargument over the belief the Press’s role is vital to lead democracy to the right path. The promotion of good governance in the nation is possible with the support of the Press.
Q. The Constitution has guaranteed the right to full press freedom. What are the efforts made from the side of the government for implementing this right?
Answer: The basic element of democracy, freedom of the Press, is a basic right connected with the people’s right to be informed. Press freedom and freedom of expression is the lifeline of democracy. Therefore, we have mentioned complete Press freedom in the very preamble of the Constitution to strengthen the democracy. The government is serious about cyber security policy and cyber awareness programmes to reduce the challenges including digital ones that have been seen in the way of guaranteeing press freedom. The Present government is firm and determined in translating the constitutional provision on press freedom into legislation and the latter into execution. The government is vigorously working on developing and reviewing media-related laws for this very purpose.
The government is also committed to the implementation of existing laws such as the Right to Information Act and the Working Journalists Act for strengthening press freedom. The government is observing closely the concerns of the national and international organisations working on the issues of press freedom. We would like to reiterate that the government will not make any kind of compromise on journalism and the professional and physical security of journalists. The government is clear and steadfast on the notion that the perpetrators of incidents against press freedom should not be let off. At the same time, on this occasion, I would like to urge the media fraternity to pay attention to producing and disseminating materials that motivate society and nation to move ahead on the positive path with hope and enthusiasm, rather than the contents spreading a sense of despondency.
Q. It is nearly eight years since the promulgation of the Constitution and around seven years since the Communication Policy was developed. The communication-related laws are yet to be formulated in line with these. How is the Ministry preparing to bring the required Communication Act?
Answer: Priority has been given to the formation of a task force for formulating the laws on the basis of the suggestions of the media-related institutions and experts in the sector. Thematic discussions with the stakeholders have also been prioritized. Arrangements have been made to make the draft bill public through the website to ensure the inputs and suggestions of the general stakeholders and to make the law-making process transparent.
The bill on Public Broadcasting Act related to communication has been forwarded to the House of Representatives. The Act provides for the merger of Radio Nepal and Nepal Television. It is stated in the bill that both the mass communication media would be made more effective and pro-people. The draft of the bill related to mass communication is being prepared. The Ministry is working on this. We have also moved ahead with the Media Council Bill. We are preparing to develop the required laws for the promotion and regulation of online media which have grown rapidly in recent times and to bring them under the tax net. Serious discussions are being held in the Ministry on policy provisions related to communication and the media.
Q. How does the government guarantee freedom of the press?
Answer: Freedom of the press is a beautiful aspect of a democratic state. Along with this, the Constitution has also a provision for the right to privacy. The constitution on the one hand ensures the right to press freedom while on the other hand, it guarantees the right to privacy. Both of these fundamental rights should be promoted in a balanced manner.
We believe that there should be freedom of the press. In the meantime, the press should not be oblivious to its dignity and responsibilities. The press should exercise its freedom being mindful about duties and dignity.
Problems over freedom of the press have risen in some cases in Nepal. But such problems have been resolved through collective initiatives and efforts. The State remotely has no intention to curtail or curb the freedom of the press.
The role played by the press in establishing democracy is prominent. The political parties and their leaders have not forgotten and should not forget the role played by the press in several uncomfortable situations.
It is the major responsibility of the government to protect the freedom of the press and the incumbent government is fully committed towards this end.
It is a different story if press freedom was curb in somewhere in some contents. But we are in favour of the freedom of the press.
While marking the Freedom of Press Day, even if the press is free, it is also important to make the press aware of maintaining its dignity. And the incumbent government is fundamentally in favour of the freedom of the press.
Q. The Press has played a huge role in political changes. But it is said that the political parties and their leaders are illiberal towards the press. Is it so?
Answer: As far as freedom of the press is mentioned, it entails other freedoms as well. We came this far following a long tumultuous political struggle. Politics and the press are interconnected. How would the public come to know about the achievements brought by political movements if there were no press? It would have been virtually impossible.
At present, the most important issue is how to implement the laws and constitution in the context of the constitutional and legal arrangements we have regarding the Press. The government should deliver being pro-public and we all should work to acknowledge our dignity. The slogan for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is important and the government is committed to implementing it.
Nobody should forget one’s rights and responsibilities. The government has paid attention towards the issues relating to press freedom. Freedom does not mean unbridled freedom. Let’s exercise freedom mindfully.