KATHMANDU, Sept 3: Lawmakers from both ruling and opposition political parties have demanded removal from the proposed Media Council Bill of any fines for journalists violating the journalistic code of conduct.
Registering separate amendments to the bill, lawmakers from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) have insisted that the media council should not impose any monetary fines against journalists. But the lawmakers had differing views about the structure of the media council and its recommendations committee.
The bill originally registered by the government had proposed fines of Rs 25,000 to 1 million against journalists found to be in violation of the code of conduct promulgated by the watchdog body. Journalists, civil society members and the political parties had all protested against the fines provision and other issues in the bill, arguing that these were only aimed at curtailing press freedom.
A joint amendment registered by 14 lawmakers from the NCP at the National Assembly on Monday has proposed dropping the provision on fines. The joint amendment was registered after discussions in the party around suggestions coming from the Federation of Nepali Journalists, the umbrella organisation of journalists.
Thagendra Prakash Puri, Sher Bahadur Kunwar, Dil Kumari Rawal, Khim Kumar BK and other lawmakers have proposed that the media council mediate and seek reconciliation between journalists concerned and affected parties instead of imposing any fines.
Lawmakers from the main opposition NC have also rejected the provision relating to fines. Their joint amendment was registered Sunday by NC parliamentary party leader for the upper house Surendra Pandey and other lawmakers including Radheshyam Adhikari. They have proposed a committee led by the chairperson of the National Assembly for recommending the chairperson of the media council and its members.
Under the government’s original bill, the government can appoint the council chairperson and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology the members. Journalists had protested against this provision, pointing out that it would curtail the autonomy of the media watchdog body.
NCP lawmakers are divided over the structure of council and the recommendations committee. The joint amendment registered by these lawmakers is similar to the original bill while another amendment registered by NCP lawmaker Ram Narayan Bidari has proposed an independent recommendation committee under the National Assembly chairperson.
Both ruling and opposition lawmakers have also demanded removal of the provision allowing the government to direct the workings of the council and the provision making it mandatory for the council to abide by such directions. Most lawmakers have also demanded removing the mandatory prior consent of the ministry when the council drafts its bylaws.
NCP lawmakers Bimala Paudel Rai, Suman Raj Pyakurel and Jeevan Budha have also registered separate amendments concerning various provisions of the bill.
Most amendments registered by NCP lawmakers have proposed minimum qualifications for journalists and also an examination before registering with the media council. They have called for a curriculum for the exam and for categorizing journalists into press representatives, media professionals and senior journalists.
Samajbadi Party lawmaker Pramila Kumari and Rastriya Janata Party lawmaker Brikhesh Chandra Lal have likewise registered separate amendments to the bill. Altogether eight amendments were registered as of Monday, before the upper house deadline for registering expired at noon.