Dialogue is the way to make corrections in Media Council Bill
The Media Council Bill that the government has registered in the National Assembly has been dragged into controversy. Media workers have also been divided on the issue and the debate on it has been going on for the past few days with the Federation of Nepali Journalists, the umbrella organisation of journalists, taking to the streets demanding that its contents be amended. Contradicting views are being expressed against the Bill, which the government has claimed was drafted to make the media more disciplined, healthy, responsible and transparent.
What is actually in the Bill, what are its weaknesses and what contents need revisions? Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s Press Advisor Dr Kundan Aryal, constitution expert Kashi Raj Dahal and vice chair of the Federation of Nepali Journalists Bipul Pokharel expressed their views on the bill during the weekly Gorkhapatra Sambad held on Sunday. Excerpts:
Media Bill takes views of victims into account: Aryal
Any Bill needs to be looked at in a broader context. A Bill is introduced to address the contemporary needs and gets amended as per the demand of time everywhere in the world. Nepal has adopted a new political system and the Bills need to be drafted accordingly.
The context is an important factor in jurisprudence. The government is focused on policy formulation. The Media Council Bill is one of them. Many other bills are to be drafted and discussed in the federal parliament.
The Media Council Bill is the need of the hour to regulate the media and make them accountable. No one can object to the need of accountability, which was developed by Prof. Hutchins in America. The media houses cannot be irresponsible towards the people and the society.
The upcoming Bill is expected to establish a fair and healthy environment for the professionals. The government will not withdraw this Bill at any cost. The Media Council Bill is essential because the individual code of ethics was not applied and a lack of self-regulation among journalists was felt. The positive part of the Media Bill has not been yet given space in the media.
The possibility of revision in the Bill is still there. The government is ready for proper revision of its contents. I urge the FNJ to stop its movement and sit for dialogue for the needed correction in the Bill.
Currently, the government has the responsibility to update the laws according to the Constitution, make structural improvement, establish an Advertising Council and integrate the government-owned media under public service broadcast.
A hybrid press council is essential and it will be there soon. History is being made here. All existing things cannot work as they are in the changed context. The Press Council was basically introduced to safeguard monarchy. Later on, it was accepted as a regulatory body. The existing Press Council is unable to work effectively except for classifying the media. Nobody trusts and implements the decisions of the Press Council now.
This means, there is the need of a real and structured regulator, which is lacking. From the proposed Media Council Bill, the government had aimed to formulate a powerful regulating wing. The intention of the government is clear and fair regarding the Bill. Several surveys and discussions with the stakeholders had been held in the past and experts suggested forming the Media Council.
We all have to co-operate with the government and participate in the dialogues for the best delivery of the Bill. The government will welcome healthy criticism and genuine corrections will be made.
Journalists need to have the patience rather than casting unnecessary doubts on the intention of the government. No movement is necessary for policy revision. Several steps on the draft Media Council Bill are still to be made. It has just been registered in the Upper House of the Federal Parliament. Detailed discussions upon the theory and importance of the bill on the full House of the Parliament have not started yet. The revision in its subject committee has not been done.
Apart from that, there are positive and desired points of the media included in the Bill which are not mentioned anywhere in much of the discussions. Mainly the parts relating to the media ‘victims’ are yet to be brought up in the dialogue through case studies.
Media Council must be independent: Dahal
Democracy has four pillars- legislature, executive, judiciary and the media. The media has its own prominence for freedom of expression and press freedom. A media monitoring body is a must to make the media fair, healthy and disciplined. India, Australia and Britain also have their own media body.
In the past, there was Press Council. Now, there is an obligation to revisit the old laws following the promulgation of the new Constitution. The Media Council Bill has been formulated to replace the existing Press Council by setting up the Media Council. It is essential to make the media healthy and professional in a new political set up.
The new constitution has guaranteed some fundamental and civic rights. Similarly, freedom of thoughts and expression as well as press freedom has been ensured in the preamble of the Constitution. Stipulating the provision of complete press freedom in the preamble of the Constitution is a unique practice. Most of the countries across the world do not have even the provision of press freedom even in the Constitution. So, the Media Council Act should be framed keeping all these prominent provisions in mind.
The Media Council must be an independent, capable and sovereign body. Rights and jurisdiction of the Council should not be contained through the new media act. If there were reservations over the contents of the Bill, they could be revised even if it was tabled in the parliament.
Since the Bill has become controversial, it should be put into public domain for wise and democratic discussion on its contents. Even after the Bill has been tabled in the parliament, it could be endorsed with revisions after holding deliberations in the parliament and parliamentary committees. As it is the government bill, deliberation inside and outside the parliament is legitimately possible over its contents. However, the political parties should not impose whip on their lawmakers while deciding the fate of the Bill.
The ruling and opposition political parties should forge a common understanding for setting the new Media Council as per the international norms and values as well as the word and spirit of the Constitution. The Council should be made independent, sovereign and capable in a way that it would investigate, monitor and reach a conclusion.
There is a provision for a recommendation committee meant for the Council. People’s representatives and concerned experts should be members of the committee. The committee too should be of high profile and disciplined.
The proposed provisions for chairperson of the Council are regressive. The credentials for the chair need to make wider. The qualification of the chairperson for the quasi-judicial body is fixed very low. He/she should have at least 20 years’ of experience in the media and knowledge of the media and law. Like the National Information Commission, there must be a provision in the Media Council Act to sack office bearers at any time on the basis of sufficient logic and reason. They could be removed from their posts on the basis of incompetency and bad conduct.
Govt should withdraw bill: Pokharel
A democratic government has to interact as much as it can with the stakeholders, but the current government is not responding to us. We have felt that the government did not want dialogue. Yes, the mass communication sector needs regulation, and the FNJ is always in favour of such regulation.
Regulation is essential but it is equally a sensitive issue. Regulating and controlling are two different two things.
Before the government starts regulating the media organisations and the professionals, there should be enough space for self-regulation.
Moreover, the phrases used in the ‘Media Council Bill’ have increased suspicions whether the government has intended to become autocratic.
In my opinion, the code of conduct is a self-regulating mechanism. Professionals have to obey that but it is not mandatory.
Warning and suspending their passes could be the maximum punishment for those violating the code of conduct. The media houses and journalists can be blacklisted. The FNJ is ready to accept such actions.
If the upcoming bill is the code of ethics for the journalism sector, the provisions of appointment and penalty are not appropriate. The cases of the wrong doers should be decided by the court, not by the Media Council. The court should take action against anyone who violates the code.
The provision to fine journalists from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 1 million could create a fear at the work place.
We all know the terrifying environment kills creativity. Another aspect of this bill is that it has assumed the Media Council as a controlling organ of the government which could not work autonomously. The FNJ has been demanding an independent council.
The FNJ wants a mature council for the betterment of the journalism sector. Inclusive, capable and appropriate leadership criteria should be made, which is utterly lacking in the bill.
Not only that the mismatch between the law and code of ethics should be cleared. Only established law can punish the wrongdoers, not the code of ethics. Code of conduct is the matter of maintaining discipline.
The FNJ demands that the government should withdraw the bill. If it cannot do that, it must correct the contents. Point nos 10, 15, and other provisions need revisions.
The Constitution guarantees complete press freedom. All the rights are mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution, but the bill contradicts with this fundamental right. The government should draft more flexible laws relating to the media as media are the means to make the democratic practices more powerful.
(This Gorkhapatra Sambad is jointly prepared for TRN by Amarendra Yadav and Ranju Kafle.)