Ujjwal Acharya, has an interesting post on whether a blog falls under Nepal’s Press Council’s jurisdiction. This following new developments in the MySansar.com and Chaudhary Group saga.
MySansar.com published a series of blog entries – including one by Om Thapa that was reproduced with permission from a weekly, Janaastha, on Binod Chaudhary. Chaudhary is a noted industrialist leading the Chaudhary Group (CG). The blogs were about alleged tax invading by CG in the light of the action initiated by the Ministry of Finance on tax invasion and fraud by 27 companies. The ministry has not yet named the companies, but the blog claimed CG is one of them.
The blog entries also claimed that CG also ‘forced’ Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari of actions leading to resignation of finance secretary Rameshwor Khanal. One of the post also criticized mainstream media for publication Chaudhary’s article claiming that the big percentage of the tax that the industrialist claimed to have paid is in fact the taxes collected by people during sales of their products.”
MySansar’s posts on Chaudhary Group, almost all of them were either shared from weekly vernaculars or parts of published records. For instance, this post is based on a published report from human rights activists. This post detailing circumstances surrounding then Finance Secretary’s resignation and alleged involvement of Chaudhary Group is from another online news source.
The Press Council is an autonomous body. Press Council Act of 1992 says it was formed to,
“(a) To make suggestions to His Majesty’s Government by reviewing from time to time the policies relating to journalism and by obtaining suggestions from the concerned quarters.
(b) To enforce a code of conduct for journalism by drawing it up with a view to development healthy journalism.
(c) To make suggestions to Nepal Government for the development of journalism.
(d) To keep an up-to date record concerning the circulation of paper.
(e) To take necessary actions, upon receipt of any complaint by the Council, as to any news item published in any paper.
(f) To submit an annual report to His Majesty’s Government on the studies and evaluation carried out on the activities and prevailing situation of papers, and
(g) To carry out inquiries into the anti-social and objectionable items published in any paper”
The Act has not been modified to fit changed realities in Nepal, it still refers to the country as a Kingdom, nevertheless, this is the basis of the Press Council’s existence. The Council has to enforce code of conduct and inquire about “antisocial” materials published in any paper.
Chaudhary Group went to the Press Council with a complaint against Mysansar. They allege that the blog published false, defamatory materials against the company-hence against media code of conduct; and they are asking for action from the Council against MySansar.
Since the Act has not been updated to include new technology and changing communication sphere, question now arises: is a blog digital equivalent of a news paper(or can the blogs be treated as newspaper equivalent, in the Nepali media context) and also whether Mysansar.com violated media code of conduct by posting those stories on Chaudhary Group.It is also important to note here that almost all of posts published by MySansar on Chaudhary Group is either republished or sources from another publication( as we have discussed earlier). Surprisingly, there is no evidence to suggest that Chaudhary Group has filed similar grievances against these sources. Mysansar seems to have been singled out.
Chaudhary’s ire against MySansar aside, the decision from Press Council to take up their complaint is questionable because the Press Council Act does not extend up to the blogs. The Act has not been modified to include blogs as news sources and part of the media. Their jurisdiction is limited to traditional media avenues. Instead of working on closing the legal loophole, the Council is now moving into a black hole territory.
MySansar did send them a clarification. I don’t think that was necessary. Why answer to an organization which has no authority over you.
Also, the question of whether Mysansar violated media code of conduct. Since the Press Council did not take any action against the newspapers and other websites which originally published parts of posts shared by Mysansar, it seems that the code of conduct was not violated.
So then why did the Council agree to go after Mysansar on Chaudhary Group’s urging? Is the council a tool to be used and abuse by powerful interests so that the voices of dissent can be silenced?
Nepali blogs and bloggers need a body to insure that their free speech rights are not violated. Also, media laws need to be updated so that this kind of blatant misuse and abuse of opportunity is not repeated.