Women journos may be a vanishing tribe -- Nepal celebrates World Press Freedom Day

Women journos may be a vanishing tribe
KATHMANDU, May 2 - Two and half years since the peace deal, press freedom in Nepal continues to deteriorate. Statistics send alarm bells. Instances of press freedom violations shot up by nearly 80 percent between April 2006 and April 2008, according to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ).

The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Nepali Congress-led government and the Maoist rebels in November 2006, should logically have brought an end to attacks on the media. But statistics tell a different story.

Between April 2006 and April 2007 instances of torture and attack stood at 69, whereas the number nearly doubled to 124 during April 2007 to April 2008. 

The figures of the first three months of 2009 are even more alarming — more than 50 press freedom violations were registered, including killings, torture, and abductions.

"If we go by the trend, the number would cross 200 in the year 2009 alone," said FNJ President Dharmendra Jha. "It's a disquieting fact that the press, which was in the forefront of the Democratic Movement of 2006, is now under attack."

International watchdogs such as Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Sans Frontiers, Freedom House and others continue to ring alarm bells about Nepali press freedom.

Nepal ranks as the world's 36th worst country — worse than Sudan — in terms of press freedom, according to a recent Reporters Sans Frontiers report. "Major political changes took place in Nepal but their effects on press freedom have not yet been felt," the report concludes by scoring Nepal's "2008 press freedom index" at 4,325, which is 21 times worse than the index of Iceland, a country scoring best, and just 2.2 times lower than the worst countries — Burma and North Korea — in the list.

Analysts have cited at least two dominant reasons behind the worsening press freedom situation in the post-peace deal period.

One of them is the proliferation of a number of armed groups in Tarai. "Before the peace deal, there were only two visible actors that used to launch attack on the press but now there are multiple and, most of them unidentified," argues Jha. The other reason, as many rights monitors, including Country Representative of OHCHR-Nepal Richard Bennett believe, is the lack of rule of law and growing culture of impunity, which they say results in "self censorship". "I would encourage the Prime Minister to make an unequivocal statement on World Press Freedom Day that all attacks against the media will be swiftly investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Bennet tells the Post.

Another alarming trend, which very few seem to have noticed, is the fact about "vanishing" women journalists.

Janakpur is a case in point, where most of women journalists have been forced to give up their profession. Manika Jha, Kokila Dhakal, Sudha Timilsena and Salma Khatun are just a few names who have been threatened or forced to drop their occupation.

"If the same trend continues, soon it will be very difficult to find women journalists in the newsrooms," says Babita Basnet, chairperson of Sancharika Samuha. Available data shows that only 15 percent of the total journalists in the country are women.

'Rule of law indispensable'



The United States has urged the government to protect press freedom and establish rule of law by investigating attacks on the media and prosecuting the perpetrators.

"We continue to be concerned about reports of attacks on and intimidation of the press in Nepal. There is no justification for the use of violence and intimidation against the media by any party or criminal group," US Ambassador Nancy J Powell said in her World Press Freedom Day message. "Only when freedom of the press is protected and rule of law is established, can democracy flourish."

"Freedom of the media — a right protected by Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights - is the hallmark of a free society.  Wherever media freedom is under siege, all other human rights are under threat."

Posted on: 2009-05-02 19:49:42 (The Kathmandu Post, Server Time)

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