KATHMANDU, May 12: While the media fraternity and civil society are worrying about one piece of legislation after another being drafted with even harsher provisions concerning the media , the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has formulated yet another bill, proposing confiscation of media equipment and slapping fines of up to Rs 10 million and 15 years in jail for media persons found publishing offensive content.
The Bill on Mass Communications drafted by the ministry has proposed Rs 5 million to 10 million in penalties or 10 to 15 years in jail or both for journalists publishing or broadcasting any content undermining national sovereignty, geographical integrity or nationality. Section 49 (5) of the Criminal Code proposes only 5 years jail and Rs 50,000 fine for a similar offence.
Media operators and journalists may land themselves up to eight years in jail with Rs 500,000 fine if the media content is found to be jeopardizing harmony between the federal units or communities or religions, according to the proposed bill. Media content provoking contempt of court or treason could land journalists 10 years in jail with up to Rs 1.5 million in penalties.
Similarly, journalists may face up to Rs 1 million in fines and may also have to compensate the victim if media content is found to be defamatory. The bill proposes up to Rs 500,000 fine for media content that is deemed to go against public dignity, undermine labor and incite untouchability.
Chief Executive of Freedom Forum, Taranath Dahal, has termed objectionable the provisions of the Mass Communication Bill that criminalize media content. “The Criminal Codes and other existing laws already provision sentencing for such offences. The Mass Media Bill shouldn’t be like criminal law and terrorize media through hefty fines and jail sentences; this is quite objectionable,” said Dahal, who is also former president of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ).
The ministry had shared some features of the bill with media stakeholders for feedback at Singhadurbar Monday, prior to registering the legislation in parliament. During the discussions, FNJ President Govinda Acharya had demanded not to scrap the Working Journalists Act by including some of its provisions in the new legislation.
A copy of the bill obtained by Republica states that it allows the government not only to slap media with monetary fines but also confiscate media equipment.
“Equipment used for the operation of online media can be confiscated after slapping Rs one million to 1.5 million in fines if any online media is found to be operating without being registered at the Mass Communications Authority or not showing details (of names and contact numbers of owner, editor and others) on the homepage,” reads Section 58 of the bill now in the pipeline.
Similarly, Section 56 has also included a provision that allows the government to confiscate the printing equipment and slap Rs one million to 1.5 million in fines if any newspaper is published or distributed without maintaining records at the authority or updating it on any changes in the media.
Article 19 (Clause 2) of the constitution of Nepal has barred the government from confiscating media equipment for publishing or broadcasting any content.
“Registration or keeping records of online media should have been voluntary provisions in the law and the proposed provision on punishment for non-registration is a grave matter,” said Dahal.
The bill has made it mandatory for online and other mass media to register with the Mass Communications Authority within a given duration.
The bill which has proposed integrating the Press and Publication Act, National Broadcasting Act and Working Journalists Act into one umbrella law has provisioned a Mass Communications Authority for the regulation, registration and licensing of mass media.
According to the draft of the bill, the authority may decide about monetary fines against media but cases concerning offences liable for jail terms will be filed at the concerned district court.