Nepal awaits improvement in press freedom atmosphere

This statement was originally published on on 12 January 2021.

Freedom Forum recorded a total of 96 press freedom violations during the year 2020. Although the number of violations declined slightly compared to the previous year (111 in 2019), the country still awaits an improvement in the press freedom atmosphere.

In the 96 incidents of press freedom violations, 167 journalists, including 16 female reporters, were directly affected. Of the total number of incidents recorded in 2020, more than 50% took place during the lockdown imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The silencing of journalists with arrests and detentions is the most worrying trend of the year. Similarly, the intimidation and harassment of journalists for reporting news, the government’s attempt to silence the media, and the suppression of citizens’ right to freedom of expression on social media were equally noticeable.

Moreover in 2020, the highest number of violations was recorded in Bagmati Province (27) with 34 individuals being affected, followed by 18 violations in Province-2, affecting 65 media persons. Province-1 and Lumbini Province witnessed the lowest number of violations.

Among the 167 journalists who were affected, the majority (58) were obstructed from doing their journalistic work, followed by 36 who were attacked/manhandled and threatened while reporting. The data further showed that during the year, most of the journalists facing violations were from print media (70), followed by those working for online media (39).

This past year remained bleak in terms of journalists’ financial security. The entire Nepali media industry suffered from the chain reaction due to the Covid-19 crisis. After the government enforced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus on March 24, the lockdown had a direct bearing on the media sector. The nationwide lockdown brought economic activities to a grinding halt, which resulted in a decline of some 80% in advertising revenue for the media. This then badly impacted media houses and journalists.

Freedom Forum’s special report also found that: radio and television programs went ‘off-air’ and, as they had no other option, the media owners took a recourse to retrenchment: many journalists and media workers were asked to stay on unpaid leave, denied regular salaries and payment, faced delays in receiving payment, finally leading to joblessness and resignations.

Journalists stared facing hard times due to the lack of their modest, yet regular incomes. Even Nepal’s blue-chip media houses – all based in the federal capital of Kathmandu – were suddenly struggling for their survival and existence, and then the obvious happened: FM radios and televisions cut down on their news bulletins and program productions while the print media reduced the number of pages being published. According to the report, nearly 38% of active journalists lost their jobs across the country owing to Covid-19.

“Although the number of press freedom violations has declined slightly, the atmosphere for press freedom and citizens’ right to free expression and information did not improve. It is worrying indeed. Continued violations of press freedom with threats and attacks on the media and journalists will eventually jeopardize Nepal’s democracy,” observed Freedom Forum Executive Chief Taranath Dahal.

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Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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