PM must tame Information Minister

Published On: December 2, 2018 02:30 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

The spokesperson of K P Sharma Oli’s government Gokul Baskota, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, has been exhibiting extreme intolerance toward media and public criticism of the government. He looks bent on imposing censorship on media—both state-run and private. Last Monday, he directed state-run media not to publish or broadcast critical news related to Nirmala Panta’s rape and murder case. On Thursday, he warned private media owners and journalists to think about “their investment and their jobs while writing news stories that are unfavorable to the government.” He seems to be saying to Nepal’s private media fraternity: If you write against the government, we won’t give you information and advertisements. Essentially, this veiled warning speaks of intention to gag the press or force it to toe the government line. More disturbingly, he has started to label news reports that expose government’s inefficiency in controlling corruption and ensuring rule of law as “fake news.”

It is hard to know if Baskota is going berserk under the watch of Prime Minister Oli or it is his personal view. In either case, it points to authoritarian tendencies against which this government must safely guard itself. Baskota is the spokesperson of the government, and whatever he does and says will be understood as official take of this government. Apparently, the government minister seems to have been piqued by relentless reporting by Nepal’s leading media houses on rape and murder of 13-year old school girl Nirmala Panta. Ever since this tragedy took place four months back, private media outlets, including this newspaper, have been reporting on the case, exposing the lapses in the investigation and lack of quick and meaningful efforts of the government to identify the culprits and jail them. They have been urging the government to act on it with extreme urgency. This is something the government should have done, irrespective of whether the media reports or does not report. 

Nirmala Panta’s case has now attracted international attention. Visiting UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Dubravka Simonovic has described it as “the test case for Nepal government.” She has mentioned that she will closely follow development in this case. Many other international organizations are closely following it. There have been concerns from various sectors over some measures taken to restrict journalists’ access to news and free flow of information. Anti-media remarks of the communication minister have added credence to these concerns. We, in Republica, have supported every good move of this government—from the decision to end transport syndicate and cartel to decision to punish nonperforming contractors (regrettably none of these were implemented) to the recent social security scheme. Thus it would be a mistake to assume that Nepali media are spreading “fake news.” The Prime Minister should make his position clear on this. With one after another anti-media remark, minister Baskota is portraying this government as standing against free press. We hope the prime minister cares.

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