Recently, Press Council of Nepal (PCN) issued a letter seeking clarification from MySansar, Nepal’s most popular blog. This is first time that PCN has recognized the presence of a blog. This incident should also encourage the government – and its agencies – to have a policy about online media.
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.
CG STRIKES BACK
The first response of CG was writing a lot of comments accusing the blogger of being biased and drunkard. I know Umesh Shrestha, the mysansar blogger, for many years now and I have never seen him drink – even socially, and that led him to check the IPs of the commentators and he found that those comments were coming from the network of CG.
He exposed the IPs leading to criticism by bloggers and tweeples for unethical practice – but that’s another story.
Then CG moved to PCN. Mahesh Pant, the executive assistant to Binod Kumar Chaudhary, wrote to PCN requesting necessary action claiming that mysansar.com ‘attempted character assassination of Chaudhary by flowing wrong, one-sided and misleading information using profanity’. Pant also asked PCN to ensure that such information would not flow in the future.
Mysansar.com sent a written clarification to PCN saying that the published blog posts were not wrong/misleading or biased rather they were based on facts made available by confidential sources. It also said that there is no substantial proof or logic in complaint filed by Pant.
PCN is yet to decide on the issue. However, it’s likely that the code of conduct monitoring committee will not close the case.
Although mysansar.com did a laudable job by replying to the PCN, the ‘blogs’ however are not under PCN jurisdiction according to applicable law. The Press Council Act, and the Code of Conduct that PCN has formulated, is silent on blog. The government and/or PCN doesn’t have a policy regarding blogs.
PCN sent the letter using email and it didn’t name anyone. Even the complainer thought that Om Thapa, whose news from Janaastha, were reproduced is the owner of the site.
In such scenario, there are many questions that immediately needed to be looked upon. The most important question is: is blogger a journalist? Going by the way PCN has taken the case, it proves that the blogger is indeed a journalist and thus should have the rights to protect his sources. In mysansar case, the blogger is also a journalist working for a mainstream media. Do all blogger has that right?
The increasing influence of blogs, note that mysansar.com is ranked ahead of many mainstream news site of Nepal, has forced the companies like CG to take them seriously. But a blog can be run and operated outside Nepal, and even if it’s from within Nepal, the blogger can be anonymous, what can PCN do if there are more complaints?
Normally, the code of conduct action by PCN is related in classification and government advertisements. However, blogs are neither classified nor they receive government advertisements. So even if PCN initiate action on valid case, there is nothing they can actually do.
It’s against the standard norms to ask blogs for compulsory registration. But there also a need that somehow the PCN needed to monitor blogs and bring them under their jurisdiction.
So the need of the hour is to have a clear policy on online news site and blogs. Blogs could have optional registration process, classification and also a pie of government advertisements. The Code of Conduct should also be updated to include the dynamics of online media.
It’s high time for PCN to initiate steps in that direction and that could well begin with round table discussions with online journalists and bloggers.