Kathmandu: The Nepal government has come under severe criticism from media groups and the Opposition after it registered in Parliament a bill which, according to experts, seeks to impose a fine of up to Rs 1 million on journalists if they were found guilty of "damaging someone's reputation".
Nepal Media Society (NMS), an umbrella body of publishers and broadcasters, demanded the bill's immediate withdrawal.
The government led by Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli on May 9 registered the Media Council Bill in Parliament for constituting the Nepal Media Council (NMC), which has provisions to impose a fine up to Rs 1 million on media outlets, editors, publishers and journalists if they were found "guilty of damaging someone's reputation".
The Section 18, Sub-section (2) of the bill stipulates that the NMC can order the erring parties to pay compensation if the content in media outlets damages the reputation of the affected party, according to experts.
Section 17 proposes punishment for violating the code of conduct which includes suspending press pass of media-persons and downgrading the classification of media outlets, they said.
NMS Chair Subhashankar Kandel asked Prime Minister Oli to revise the bill by holding consultations with the stakeholders including the Federation of Nepalese Journalists.
"Some of the provisions of the Bill were meant for demoralising the entire media industry and independent press, and were against complete press freedom guaranteed by the Constitution," he said.
Main Opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba Monday said that the government was planning to stage a coup d'état against press freedom and journalism through the bill.
He said that the NC would not accept at any cost moves towards curtailing press freedom. "Freedom is our ideology. We will launch protests in Parliament and on the street against any move aimed at curtailing press freedom," Deuba said.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) launched a five-day protest programme against the bill.
The FNJ on Monday met Parliament Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara and handed over a petition requesting amendment to the controversial bill.
Its representatives will soon meet Prime Minister Oli and request him to make necessary changes in the bill to ensure press freedom, the FNJ said.
The Sajha Vivekshil Party (SVP) said the government is trying to cover up its weaknesses through the new bill.
As the Communist government's popularity dipped in its one-and-a-half-year tenure, new laws are being formulated to cover its failures, the SVP said, adding that it goes against total press freedom and individual liberty guaranteed in the Constitution.
Senior leader of the NC and former Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala has termed the government's move to curtail press freedom unnatural.She asked the government to keep in mind the crucial role played by the Nepalese media during the pro-democracy movement before taking any such decision.
"If the bill is passed, the journalists will not be able to write against corruption, anomalies and malpractices. We will not accept it if it is passed without any change," said Ramesh Bista, General Secretary of the FNJ.
The government should not intervene in the functioning of the media, The Himalayan Times editor Prakash Rimal said, adding that the media industry should abide by its own code of conduct.
The bill contains around a dozen provisions which aim to prevent the media from working freely. This is an attempt made by the government to keep the media under its grip, said former chairman of FNJ Taranath Dahal....