The Nepalese media fraternity marked World Press Freedom Day on Thursday with a call for greater professional unity among journalists and media persons. While leaders of different political parties vowed to make sincere contribution to ensure total freedom of the press, the media community is demanding safety and security of journalists. Although the Nepali press has enjoyed freedom in principle, the job of the journalists is still hazardous because journalists continue to be attacked, intimidated and even killed for writing and reporting the facts. The threats and attacks mainly come from the non-state sector. But the state is also partly to blame because the government, whose principal responsibility is to ensure the security of its citizens, has not been able to fully prevent such attacks on the media and media persons.
The media and journalists are the advocates of people’s right to information, and they have been genuinely discharging their duty by objectively and professionally informing the people. Their role was particularly crucial during Jana Andolan II when journalists remained at the forefront of the movement for democracy, in which several journalists even faced police arrest, beatings and torture. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, all of us must come together to pay tributes to those journalists and media persons who sacrificed their life for the cause of press freedom and democracy. Press freedom is a hallmark of democracy. Democracy cannot sustain itself without a free press, while press freedom and freedom of expression can be guaranteed only in a functioning democracy. Thus, press freedom and democracy are synonymous as one cannot function and flourish in the absence of the other. But the Nepalese media sector faces many problems which need to be addressed in order to ensure total freedom of the press and its sustenance.
Apart from security, another pressing problem facing the Nepalese journalists is related to their working conditions. Most journalists and media persons, especially those working in small newspapers, are underpaid and some are not paid at all. Journalists have been raising this issue more prominently, and the umbrella body of Nepali journalists has also demanded that all journalists be paid a minimum remuneration as fixed by the Committee for the Minimum Remuneration of Journalists. Unless journalists are safe and well paid, journalism and the media industry cannot flourish in a professional way. In the absence of security to the journalists and a dignified working condition, the Nepalese media will continue to face challenges, which will not allow professional and institutional development of the media. Thus, the government must take some immediate measures for the development of the Nepali media and welfare of media persons. This should include the guarantee of dignified remuneration to the journalists and their safety.