26 September 2006

Recommendations of High Level Media Suggestions Commission on the State Media:The Ball is in the government’s Court

By Harsha Man Maharjan
The issue of reforming state media is in air. Media related organizations like Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), Press Chautari etc demanded this after April revolution 2006.
FNJ recommended the government to make the Gorkhaptra Sasthan (GP) a public print media, not a private one. About Radio Nepal (RN) and Nepal Television (NTV), it recommends passing a charter by the Parliament for these media like Britain did for BBC radio and tv. This will bring Radio Nepal and NTV under the parliament instead of the Prime Minister and Minister of Information as it is now.
The High Level Media Recommendation Commission 2006 (HLMRC) has recommended the government to privative the GP, make Radio Nepal and NTV public broadcasting services loyal to people . About National New Agency (RSS) it recommends to be loyal to people.
7 September 2006 statement of the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal says all political parties show their support to reform these media. It recommends “privatization, transformation into public broadcasting service media or some other means” for this.
This is a good news for a Nepali. Yet, can we believe in what these parties say? Will the government do as the recommendations of the HLMRC 2006? I see less hope.
The issue of reforming the state media came in past too. Two press commissions during the Panchayat period recommended this to the governments. Enacting its recommendation was a democratic practice. How could these undemocratic governments do the democratic job? The governments gave no fig to the issue.
Even democratic governments after 1990 toed the line of Panchayat governments. The recommendations of media-reform task forces on this issue never came in practice. Like the Panchayat governments, the democratic governments misused the state media by disseminated only praises about them.
The Press Commission 1957 under the chair of Krishna Prasad Chapagain recommended stopping Gorkhapatra. People were unhappy at that time for what Gorkhapatra did before and after the 1950 revolution against them. Instead, the commission demanded a national news agency. About the agency, the commission requested the government to finance it for few years and made it sovereign after that. It warned the government not to make the agency “a means of propaganda”. The government never closed Gorkhaptra nor left RSS sovereign.
To make semi-government set-up of the GP and RSS, the Panchayat government enacted Gorkhapatra Corporation Act 2019 v.s and RSS Act 2019 v.s. Gorkhapatra Corporation Act 2019 v.s. made a provision of floating certain percentage of shares to its staff and the general people. The Act mandated 50 %, 25% and 25 % of the share to the government, its staff and general people respectively. Governments showed no courage to this.
Even RSS Act 2019 v.s. made provisions of 25%, 25% and 50% of its share for the government, its staff and general people respectively. However, governments never flouted the shares to its staffs and general people, and held it tightly.
The Royal Press Commission 1957 recommended the royal government to release its hold from the state media. Neither the royal governments of the Panchayat period nor the other governments after 1990 revolution did this.
This issue again came after the 1990 revolution. People at that time hoped for no government interfere in these media in future. So, the Prime Minister of Interim Government, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai’s speech saying, “No democratic government owns media”, during a program in the Gorkhapatra Corporation was a solace to people. Political parties like Nepal Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), Nepali Congress etc had included the issue of reforming the state media in general election 1991.
The Congress government after that election accelerated the process of privatizing the government-owned corporations through different models. The Gorkhapatra Corporation and RSS were also in the list. However, the government could not do this.
Even the task force for framing news media policy in 1992, headed by Narahari Acharya recommended reducing the government’s grip on GP and RSS by flouting shares to private sectors. About the Radio Nepal and NTV, it recommended the government to make them sovereign institutions. No government showed any willingness to flout the shares. Opposite to the task force’s thesis, governments always interfered in these media organizations by appointing directors and other personals, making them loyal only to those who appoint them.
Another task force constituted by the royal government in 2061 v.s. to recommend about the news policy of the state media says, “Government control and political interference make the state media less professional, and less capable to compete with private media. The royal government instead misused these media by disseminating propaganda during the April revolution 2006.
After the April revolution of 2006, the reform of the state media is the demand of people. The parliamentarians even voiced that government should stop interfering these media. Former communication minister Jay Prakash Gupta regretted for not fulfilling his words of privatizing the Gorkhaptra Sasthan in his book Akhatiyar ko Thuna: Mero Samjhana. Workers’ associations of GP are discussing on the models like cooperative, trust etc. The present government has to think over their concerns too.
Political parties in present government never did what they committed to do, and what others recommended them to do. People believe that the government will still commit the same mistake. It is the government’s responsibility to prove what the people believe is wrong. The ball of the reform is in the government’s court. What is important is its unprecedented action, not words.