Me­dia Hatchet

The Right to In­for­ma­tion Act is a fun­da­men­tal right of ev­ery Nepalese cit­i­zen. Will it help the gov­ern­ment clamp down on ba­sic rights?

Southasia - - Contents - By Aditya Man Shrestha

In­stead of fo­cus­ing on two press­ing na­tional agen­das, one of set­tling down the com­mu­nist rebels and the other of help­ing write a new con­sti­tu­tion, the Nepal gov­ern­ment headed by Prime Min­is­ter Dr. Babu­ram Bhat­tarai is in­stead cre­at­ing hur­dles against their ful­fill­ment.

At a time when Dr. Bhat­tarai is ex­pected to build po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus on crit­i­cal is­sues, he is seen pro­vok­ing his ad­ver­saries by mak­ing in­ept de­ci­sions on non-ex­pe­di­ent mat­ters.

His gov­ern­ment re­cently rec­om­mended a pres­i­den­tial par­don for a party col­league proven guilty of mur­der by the court of law. Fur­ther­more, the gov­ern­ment le­gal­ized 10,000 cases of prop­erty and fi­nan­cial deals made dur­ing the armed con­flict, with­out ap­proval from reg­u­lar reg­is­tra­tion of­fices. It raised public anger by its un­scrupu­lous han­dling of fuel pric­ing and sup­ply. The gov­ern­ment is also blamed for the un­timely mea­sure of road ex­pan­sion in the cap­i­tal. The lat­est decision re­gard­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion of in­for­ma­tion is also deemed dis­as­trous.

In mak­ing all these de­ci­sions, the gov­ern­ment has been ir­re­spon­si­ble and has an­tag­o­nized politi­cians, stu­dents, civil so­ci­ety and jour­nal­ists.

If the decision of the gov­ern­ment on the in­for­ma­tion clas­si­fi­ca­tion was final then the me­dia in Nepal would be left with very lit­tle to re­port ex­cept phony speeches of min­is­ters rem­i­nisc­ing days of strict in­for­ma­tion con­trol un­der ab­so­lute monar­chy. The gov­ern­ment un­ex­pect­edly re­solved to block in­for­ma­tion on 140 sub­jects from the me­dia and cir­cu­lated an or­der to all gov­ern­ment branches to im­ple­ment the decision with im­me­di­ate ef­fect. The act vir­tu­ally sent an elec­tric shock in the me­dia world as it cur­tailed the free­dom of press granted un­der the in­cum­bent in­terim con­sti­tu­tion and chal­lenged the right to in­for­ma­tion act of 2007.

The act em­pow­ers the gov­ern­ment to with­hold in­for­ma­tion that could po­ten­tially have a se­ri­ous im­pact on na­tional se­cu­rity, sovereignty, ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, peace and or­der, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, communal har­mony and in­di­vid­ual privacy. How­ever, the 140 sub­jects in ques­tion do not per­tain to these top­ics.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the gov­ern­ment iden­ti­fied a long list of sub­jects for

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