Upholding the freedom of press in the age of the internet — that has witnessed newer risks of misinformation and fake news — is critical to ensure a just, peaceful and prosperous Nepal, government officials, journalists, civil society leaders and representatives of international development partners observed as they join hands to mark the World Press Freedom Day in Kathmandu.
Addressing the programme, Minister for Communication, Information and Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota said the sacrifices of journalists in the past democratic movements and their professionalism served as a reminder to the government about the importance of press freedom to achieve peace and stability. Minister Baskota added that, “2019 will be the year to safeguard dignity and security of the journalists,” stressing the need to promote more responsible and professional journalism. He also said the government is in the process of making new laws in consultation with the journalists. The conference was jointly organized by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology; Election Commission, Nepal; Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ); UNESCO and UNDP, with support from EU.
Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya highlighted the importance of the media in successfully conducting elections. “All three tiers of government should work together for the promotion of media’s role during elections,” he said addressing the programme.
UN Resident Coordinator Valerie Julliand said transparent and reliable press would ensure better governance. “If the press is not free, we are not free. Free press is essential for justice, for peace and sustainable development and for the enjoyment of human rights,” she remarked.
British Ambassador to Nepal His Excellency Richard Morris said press freedom not only works as a symptom of democracy, but can also work to ensure the accountability for improvement of public service.
The EU Ambassador to Nepal Her Excellency Veronica Cody stated that disinformation has a high potential to negatively influence democratic processes and public debates.
The event also saw the official launch of the Annual Press Freedom Report, published by FNJ. According to the report, since May 4, 2018 there were 60 instances of press freedom violations, the majority of them being attacks, threats, misconduct and arrests.
“More than 77 journalists and five media houses faced criminal cases and harassments for alleged violations of the Electronic Transaction Act,” said Govinda Acharya, FNJ Chairperson calling for increased effort to ensure safety of journalists and freedom of press.
The programme included several deliberations at the inaugural session as well as the six thematic panel discussions. Former Chief Election Commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel facilitated a panel on ‘new opportunities and challenges for the integrity of Nepal’s elections in the digital age’; media expert Binod Bhattarai facilitated a panel on “media and its role in supporting peace and democracy.” Likewise, former Chief Election Commissioner Neelkantha Uprety facilitated a panel on ‘voter education through mass media’ ; social media researcher Ujjwal Acharya facilitated another panel on ‘social media policies and practices’; former Election Commissioner Ila Sharma facilitated a panel on ‘digital media-portrayal of gender and social inclusion’; and ‘media policies conducive to peace and democracy’ was facilitated by media expert Babita Basnet.
During the function three senior journalists – former President of FNJ Dharmendra Jha, pioneer of radio in Nepal Gopal Guragain and former Chairperson of Working Women Journalists Sangita Lama were honoured with the “Press Freedom Fighter” award.
More than 250 participants from different media and media related organisations, Election Commission, universities and development organizations participated in the event in support of the World Press Freedom Day.