Proposed Media Policy: Bad Timing

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The Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) has thrown out a draft of Media Policy 2012 urging stakeholders to send feedback that it said will be incorporated before finalizing it. A Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) has published front-page advertisements urging all concerned organization and people to send the feedback to their email. The NGO also held three consultation meetings, including one in Kathmandu, to discuss the proposed media policy.

The proposed policy is prepared by a committee headed by MoIC joint secretary under a project funded by Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA). The ‘Project for Promoting Peace Building and Democratization through the Capacity Development of the Media Sector in Nepal’ (or Media for Peace Project) aims to achieve two targets: first, functioning of Radio Nepal as a public service broadcasting (PSB) and second, revision of media policy, acts, regulations and guidelines.

Principally, both the objectives will benefit Nepali media and it’s good that JICA has taken the initiative to help media become better and stronger.

The project’s aim of developing the state-owned radio as a PSB is a laudable effort. However, the project’s second aim, the revision of all media-related policies and laws, despite being desirable, needs to be handled carefully, especially by the implementing agency—the MoIC.

The draft of media policy, when disseminated publicly a month ago, surprised at least some stakeholders. Media organizations such as the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Nepal Press Union, Press Chautari, Revolutionary Journalists Association, TV Editors’ Association and Community Radio Broadcasting Association all denounced the proposed policy saying it is ‘faulty by procedure’.

FAULTY PROCEDURE

The procedural fault that the media associations pointed out was that the stakeholders were not consulted before the preparation of the draft. Neither FNJ, the umbrella organization of all journalists of the country, nor media experts/senior journalists were properly informed and consulted before drafting the policy.

A policy that facilitates the country’s whole media industry cannot be prepared inside closed doors. But the proposed policy was prepared precisely that way; the project’s three-page progress report states that “in terms of media policy, the sectoral policies have been drafted by project’s legal advisor with the co-ordination of MoIC and project’s [Japanese] media policy expert”.

Another fault in the drafting process was that it was never made clear why the existing media policies needed complete revision. The most important pre-condition for complete overhaul of a policy should be the proven irrelevance of the existing policy.

The National Media Policy 1992 and the Long-term Policy on Information and Communication 2002 were both drafted and implemented in democratic regime thus they both ensure freedom of expression while envisioning government’s role as the facilitator of media development. They both are still relevant as they are quite explicit in terms of content and cover all sectors of media.

The proposed new media policy doesn’t build on the foundation of earlier policies. Even the advices of the High Level Media Recommendation Committee have been completely ignored. The proposed document is not comprehensive. It also has a few grey areas in content that a regime could use to restrict freedom of expression as it promotes the state as a regulator rather than facilitator of media sector.

INCOMPLETE CONTENT

The proposed Media Policy 2012 has an overall policy and four sectoral policies for broadcasting, print, cinema and advertisement sectors. Good enough for guiding the overall media sector however there are a few points that contradict with current system and the media situation in the country.

The policy emphasizes the need to “create appropriate mechanism to limit foreign investment in the media sector to 49 per cent at most”. Foreign investment in media is a controversial issue and there was huge debate surrounding it a few years ago. Currently, no foreign direct investment is allowed in media, and to change that to 49 per cent is a big shift and needs a lot of deliberations on its pros and cons before taking a final decision.

Similarly, the policy talks about abolishing government advertisement system (the public service advertisements) which is lifeline of many small media outlets. It’s contradictory that the draft on one hand talks about promoting healthy democracy and on the other attempts to break the lifeblood of smaller media which are vital for pluralism and diversity.

Although the government advertisements may not be good journalism in developed countries, the system has promoted diversity in Nepali media system by encouraging small media outlets.

The draft document also has an anti-monopoly and ownership limitations that also needs a careful consideration.

A surprising part of the proposed media policy is that it doesn’t talk about internet-based media at a time when online media is fast becoming the mainstream. A media policy in 2012 without a word on online or internet media is certainly misguided.

WRONG TIME

The country is in transition. Its constitution is being formulated. There are issues being hotly debated in the constitution, such as pluralism and federalism, which could reshape media landscape. Although it looks like basic media freedom indicators such freedom of expression and right to information will be guaranteed in the new constitution, the extent of the freedom is still a matter of speculation.

In such context, the MoIC’s work on formulating new media policy is out of context. The country’s policies, laws and regulations are guided by the constitution, which is the supreme law, and until the constitution is complete, it’s worthless to toil on a document that would need revision immediately after new constitution is promulgated.

The JICA-funded project’s effort to turn Radio Nepal into a PSB is a welcome step, and if there are policies and legal provisions that hinder the process, the MoIC should lend a helping hand in amending those policies and legal provisions. The JICA-project should also limit itself to revising only those provisions in policy and laws that are obstructing the process of transformation of the state-owned radio into a PSB radio.

The complete revision of media policy requires a multi-stakeholder effort, including especially those who are directly affected, such as media organizations, journalists associations and senior experts on all sectors it would cover. It should also be founded on existing media policies and earlier efforts rather than being a nucleus effort.

There are too many weaknesses in the proposed policy. Thus, the proposed media policy 2012 is as good as obsolete.

(As published in Republica Op-Ed)

Author: Ujjwal Acharya

The Radiant Star is a personal blog of Ujjwal Acharya, born 1978, who likes to call himself a professional journalist, hobbyist blogger, sport lover and social media enthusiastic. This blog features personal posts with opinions on media, citizen journalism and blogs of Nepal and tweets at @UjjwalAcharya

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