KATHMANDU, Feb 7: The upper house of parliament removed controversial provisions on mandatory licensing for all working journalists and licensing examinations for aspiring new journalists from the much-talked-about Media Council Bill on Thursday.
The National Assembly endorsed the bill unanimously after removing the licensing provision, which was introduced by its Legislation Management Committee last month.
Although the provision on mandatory licensing examinations for journalists was added in the bill under pressure from ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmakers on the parliamentary committee, most lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties came out against the idea during deliberations in the full house.
Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota agreed to an amendment tabled by NCP chief whip in the upper house Khim Lal Bhattarai, demanding removal of licensing examinations. The house scrapped Sections 5 (J) and 15 from the bill, which are related to licensing and licensing examinations, while endorsing the bill.
Federation of Nepali Journalists, an umbrella organization of media practitioners, had withdrawn its protests against the bill in July 2019 following a three-point commitment from Bhattarai and other NCP leaders to revise the bill in parliament to address their demands.
Minister Baskota said although licensing provisions for journalism are in effect in Portugal and Italy requires mandatory trainee experience, Nepal doesn’t need such provisions.
Earlier, during deliberations on the bill, main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) lawmaker Radheshyam Adhikari opposed the mandatory licensing examinations. “Journalists face an examination at all times as readers, listeners, viewers and stakeholders judge their performance every moment. Programs failing to satisfy the audience cannot last.
NCP lawmaker Komal Wali also opposed the provision on licensing, stating that this is against the spirit of the constitution. “Conducting licensing examinations could limit the freedom of expression,” said Wali.
Ramprit Paswan of Samajbadi Party and Brikhesh Chandra Lal of Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) also stood against the idea of licensing. However, Thagendra Prakash Puri and Jeeven Buda of NCP defended the provision.
Earlier, the upper house panel had removed another disputed provision under which journalists could be fined up to Rs 1 million for violating a media code of ethics. Following strong objections from journalists, the committee also revised the process of constituting the media council to make it a more independent body.
The lower house will also deliberate the bill and can revise it before forwarding it to the president.