UNESCO Director-General deplores new restrictions on press freedom in NepalUNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura today deplored the severe restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression represented by the new government ordinance issued in Nepal on October 9.
This new legislation follows earlier restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression in Nepal, ordered after the government was dismissed and the state of emergency was declared in February 2005. Mr Matsuura, repeated the concerns he expressed at that time: “Media outlets were closed or taken over by the armed forces, critical reports were banned and journalists arrested. All of these acts represent attacks on the independence of the media, and therefore on democratic progress. The new curbs on media rights contained in this ordinance would indicate that the situation is getting worse.”
Recalling that UNESCO’s mission is to defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press as mainstays of democratic societies, Mr Matsuura today appealed to the Nepalese authorities to reconsider their action. “At a time when the planning of democratic elections has been announced in Nepal, legislation that justifies censorship and curtails the ability of media professionals to do their job can only appear to be incompatible with a free and open electoral process,” said the Director-General. “I call upon the Nepalese government to think again about the wisdom of this ordinance. Such reconsideration would be a welcome sign of respect for free, pluralistic and independent media, indispensable conditions for democracy and good governance.
The ordinance has been condemned by a number of press organizations including the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders as it bans news broadcasts, increases penalties for press law violations, amends existing press laws and forbids news media coverage of “any subjects that could have negative effects for political parties”.
UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom. Article 1 of its Constitution requires the Organization to “further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of
the United Nations.” To realize this purpose the Organization is required to “collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of mass communication and to that end recommend such international agreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image…”