‘Freedom of expression, human rights, and democracy go hand-in-hand’

Published On: May 10, 2023 07:08 AM NPT By: Sara Pahari

KATHMANDU, May 10: Experts during a discussion program organized on the theme of the World Press Freedom Day 2023 expressed their view that independent media is central to good governance in democracy. 

The principles of freedom of expression, human rights, and democracy go hand-in-hand and are mutually supportive, said Hanna Singer Hamdy, the UN Resident Coordinator in Nepal, while speaking at the program organized on Tuesday by UNESCO in collaboration with the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, the National Human Rights Commission, the Federation of Nepali Journalists, and the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism of Tribhuvan University (TU).

“Independent & pluralistic media is central to good governance in democracies whether young or old,” she later tweeted.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General assembly 30 years ago based on UNESCO’s recommendation, and   has been ever since celebrated on May 3 to raise awareness about the significance of press freedom and to remind the government to uphold the right to freedom of expression under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Speaking at the program, Minister for Communication and Information Technology Rekha Sharma said, “It is important to strengthen the democratic federal republic in order to achieve press freedom. While it may seem hard to believe for the current generation, people in the past have sacrificed their lives fighting for their right to speech and expression. In a democratic federal system, political freedom and press freedom are exercised together.” 

The minister emphasized that press freedom and the freedom of expression are not just concerns of the media, but a matter related to all citizens. The minister noted that freedom is a core value embedded in Nepal's constitution. Minister Sharma said the incumbent government is committed to upholding the constitutional and legal rights of a free press since it cannot be limited just within the pages of the constitution.  

The World Press Freedom Day this year was celebrated with the theme of 'Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as driver for all other Human Rights’. 

UNESCO Representative to Nepal Michael Croft raised the issue of violence against journalists, especially by non-state actors. He noted that the press freedom in Nepal has been taken for granted and there is a negative trend of misinformation, fake news and hate speech. He said, “It is important that we have a second look at the media sector and legislation on how media operates and how journalists are trained. 

Similarly, speaking on the occasion, NHRC’s Top Bahadur Magar said the NHRC is active in promoting press freedom, freedom of expression and other human rights guaranteed by the law such as right to live with dignity, right against discrimination and untouchability.

Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) Chair Bipul Pokhrel said, "Although Nepal has been progressing in terms of press freedom, there is a need for press-friendly laws. There should be pro-activeness in punishing those who violate press freedom and try to keep press within their grip.”

Likewise, Chairperson of Press Council Nepal, Bal Krishna Basnet, presented a paper and said, “Press Council Nepal is a guardian organization that fights for press security, implementation of press freedom and maximum utilization of the same.” Presenting the paper, Chair Basnet said that most of the cyber-attack and misuse of press freedom reported are via new media and ensured that the Press Council works to prohibit the misuse of press freedom and promote accountable journalism.

Commenting on Basnet's paper, FNJ General Secretary Roshan Puri said that political parties that claim to protect press rights do exactly the opposite when they join the government. He also raised the issue of comments that journalists are biased and one-sided and said that there is a need for consumer representatives as well and such concerns should be addressed by the council.

Hanna Singer Hamdy, the UN Resident Coordinator in Nepal, remarked that Nepal is at the forefront of South Asian nations when it comes to press freedom. 

A recent study conducted by UNESCO between 2016 and 2021 has revealed that a staggering 455 journalists lost their lives during this period. In light of these statistics, it’s hard not to question: How far have we come in terms of protecting press freedom and ensuring the safety of journalists?


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