KATHMANDU, Jan 3: The High Court (HC) OF Patan on Tuesday allowed Nepal Police to seek sources of information from online news portals.
Refusing to issue a stay order as demanded by the online portals, a division bench of Chief Judge Prakash Kumar Dhungana and Justice Neeta Gautam Dixit paved the way for the police to seek sources of information from the online news portals following hearings on the case on Tuesday.
The order states: “In the context of press freedom being an uninfringeable right, the correspondence from the investigating authority requesting support in the process of investigation according to the existing law does not amount to the violation of national and international practices related to the freedom of press, nor does it infringe and restrict the norms, values and practices of the free press. So, there was no need to issue a stay order. Do according to the law.”
Sushasannews.com and muldharnews.com had moved the HC challenging the move by the Metropolitan Police Range (MPR) to seek documents and sources relating to the news they had published on the performance evaluation report of the then Deputy Inspector General of Police Nawaraj Silwal. The editors of the online news portals Madan Bhandari and Rabisingh Dhami had filed the joint petition challenging the action of the MPR.
Stating that Article 19(2) of the Constitution has ensured the freedom of the online news portals, advocates Kapildev Dhakal, Bikash Bhattarai, Ananta Raj Luitel, Bhaktiram Ghimire, Hari Prasad Mainali, Radhika Dhakal, Baburam Dahal and Sunil Ranjan Sigh had sought a stay order arguing on behalf of the editors to stop the investigation of the police against the online news portals. They also claimed that Section 8 of the Code of Conducts of Journalists, 2016 has also ensured privilege of the journalists to protect their secret sources of news and therefore they sought a court intervention to secure their sources of information arguing that the police have tried to gag the free press by demanding the sources of information.
Article 19(2) states: “No radio, television, online or another form of digital or electronic equipment, press or other means of communication publishing, broadcasting or printing any news item, feature, editorial, article, information or other material shall be closed or seized nor shall the registration thereof be cancelled nor shall such material be seized by the reason of publication, broadcasting or printing of such material through any audio, audio-visual or electronic equipment.”
The MPR had asked the online news portals to reveal the source of information related to the news they published on the performance evaluation report of Silwal who was recently elected from Lalitpur-1 Constituency on the ticket of CPN UML, following the recent Supreme Court order to investigate into Silwal's case.
Chief Secretary Lok Darshan Regmi and representatives of the Office of the Attorney General, Police Headquarters, IGP Prakash Kumar Aryal, Ministry of Home Affairs, MPR, and Nepal Telecom had also attended Tuesday's hearings, demanding the court's permission to continue the MPR investigation.
Media law expert Ram Krishna Timalsina, who is also a former registrar of the Supreme Court commented that the online news portals now have the alternative to move the apex court to protect their sources of information. “The online news portals are also like newspapers. Therefore they are not compelled to reveal the sources of news,” he told Republica. “Had the court sought the sources of information, it would have been a different situation because there is the practice to reveal the sources of information to the court globally. But this is a different situation. So, if they want to protect their sources, they can move the Supreme Court.”