Media legislation

Nepal’s media are governed by a set of laws, and their regulations. The main media laws are the Press and Publication Act 1992, the National Broadcasting Act 1993, and the Working Journalists Act 1995. The Press and Publication Act 1992 regulates the print media whereas the National Broadcasting Act is for radio and television. The Working Journalists Act is for the welfare and rights of the journalists employed in media houses regarding their benefits.

There is no law governing the digital media platforms so the Ministry of Information and Communication introduced the Online Media Operation Directives 2017. But it has been controversial with media rights organisations rejecting it for its restrictive provisions, but nonetheless the government continues its effort to implement it. The state, as stated earlier, plays an intervening role with such directives. The earlier version of the directives, which was approved by the government but not implemented because of the protests by the stakeholders, included the provisions to censor or shut-down online media for their contents, which was against the democratic values and the constitutional norms.

There is an ongoing effort to replace those media laws by the government, which formed a committee to draft a single integrated mass media law. It is still in its infancy and shall take a few years to be introduced. Along with it, the government has long been doing homework to convert state-owned broadcasting corporations into the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), and a draft law is ready for stakeholder discussion on it. Community radios are also governed by the same laws and regulations of commercial radios. There is a longstanding demand for separate regulations for community radios that are not profit-oriented and serving the communities, but no such regulations are in sight yet.

In the past, the Supreme Court has played a crucial role, mainly in favour of media freedom. For example, when in 2005 the government banned all news and current affairs programmes on the radio, the Court issued an interim order asking the government not to obstruct news broadcasts on FM radios, saying it’s not only the right of the radios but also the responsibility of the radios to inform the public. The Constitutional Bench within the Supreme Court will be important in the next few years during the implementation of the new constitution.

The 2015 Constitution of Nepal, promulgated on September 20, 2015 by the Constituent Assembly, in its Preamble expresses ’commitment to create the bases of socialism by adopting democratic norms and values, including… complete press freedom’. While the Constitution is explicit in mentioning the rights – including the fundamental rights affecting the press freedom – the restrictions of the rights are vague in wording and open for misinterpretation. The restrictions, as well as provisions for state of emergency, also do not match the international standards, and leaves open space for wrong actions by the state.

The state-owned media are established and governed by their own acts or regulations.