Press Commission Recommendations

- Harsha Man Maharjan | 2021-09-24

Harsha Man Maharjan

Press Commissions are important for the suggestions and guidance they provide to governments and media industries. If we fulfil these recommendations, often they do solve problems inside media industries. Nepal Government took a decision on 5 November 1957 to form the first Press Commission. After the committee of the commission did not function, another committee was formed on 23 January 1958, which submitted its report on 13 June 1958. Though many recommendations of this report have been fulfilled, few important ones are yet to be done. One such issue is the reform of government-owned media.

The tasksThe commission had five points to work on. First, to provide suggestions to develop clean and healthy journalism by studying the history of Nepali journalism-especially after 1950. Second, to recommend by studying the operation, economy and other issues related to the management of printing presses and newspapers. Third, to provide suggestions on the facilities and concessions that the government should provide to the press and about the responsibility that the press had towards the government. Fourth, to recommend on ways to have a congenial relationship between the government and the press, and on the need and feasibility of a permanent Press Advisory Committee. And, fifth, to recommend on the necessary management for the probable establishment of a national news agency, Rastriya Sambad Samiti (RSS).

The commission gave few recommendations which have been fulfilled. One such issue is legal reform. The report mentioned that all people who the members of the commission met unanimously criticised few provisions of the Press and Publication Act 2009 (1951). One of that provisions was the Article 36 which gave power to the government to stop news, criticism and publication in the name of “public interest”. The commission urged the government to amend it by defining the term as it was contradictory to the rights accorded by the constitution. The commission also suggested the government to amend another provision of the law which gave discretionary power to the officer to demand the deposit up to Rs. 1,000 or deny the registration of printing presses. Two, portraying a pathetic condition of journalism having no support from any side, this commission suggested different facilities and concessions by the government. The commission recommended the government to provide advertisements to these newspapers, to give press passes to journalists.

Though many recommendations of this commission have been fulfilled, there are still some important issues yet to be fulfilled. Among them, reforming government media is an important one.

The commission had suggested the government to establish the news agency in a semi-governmental set-up in the beginning for about 5 years. This agency should have full investment from the government and this investment needed to be reduced from non-government side converting it into non-governmental one later. The report presented two reasons for this. One, if it would be fully government owned news agency, it would be like government propaganda means. Two, due to lack of resources, it could not be made fully non-governmental. The model of the news agency that the press commission report envisioned seemed to be similar to a co-operative one.

The structure proposed by the commission shows that it tried to have majority of members in the board of the agency from non-government side. Out of seven board members, four were from non- government side who would be selected through the elections of shareholders having shares of worth Rs. 1000. The report said this about its independence: “There should not be any government pressure or interference on the working of the agency. Its activities should be totally independent under the agreed basic principles”.

Interestingly in the beginning new agencies were established in a cooperative set up in Nepal. The first news agency, Nepal Sambad Samiti was formed on 19 December 1959 by representatives of newspapers such as Nepali Times, Commoner, Janta, Nepal, Nepali, etc. About four months after this agency was formed, another news agency, Sagarmatha Sambad Samiti was established on 12 May 1960 by a group of editors affiliated to other newspapers. Pashupati Dev Pandey (Naya Samaj), Manindra Raj Shrestha (Motherland), Sankarnath Sharma (Nepal Samachar), etc were in this agency.

But these news agencies could last until 17 February 1962. There were two reasons for this: there was not adequate economic source to support two news agencies and the Panchayat system seemed to favor having one source for national and international information. When a new agency, Nepal Sambad Samiti was formed on 18 February 1962, its temporary committee had members from both of the earlier agencies.

Even the National News Agency Act, 1963 had made a provision of floating shares to public and it staff. But this provision was not implemented in a pretext that public were not interested to invest in this organisation.

Though it was not forcefully suggested the report of the commission had included the demand of the closure of Gorkhapatra as one of six miscellaneous recommendations that were discussed during meetings. The issue of Gorkhapatra was brought into discussion in Nepali press in May 1959 when the government planned to convert the tri-weekly newspaper into daily one. Newspapers namely The Commoner, Kalpana highlighted the government should not publish its own newspapers. So, when it was converted into Gorkhapatra Corporation in 1963 through Gorkhapatra Corporation Act, 1963, people might have thought the government was willing to include non-government members in the management of the newspaper as the Act had a provision of floating shares to its staff and general people. But as in the case of RSS, the government has shown courage to implement this provision.

OpportunitiesAs the governments have not dared to even follow the provisions and media policies, which have highlighted the need of increasing people’s participation by floating shares in these government-owned media, people’s trust on these media has ebbed. To restore this trust, the government must have will to reduce its control on these organisations.

The homework to convert these organisations to public ones with public ownership has been done. There is the debate going on about the possibility of restructuring RSS into different models such as public media under a parliamentary committee or a cooperative or public-owned organisation. Whatever are the models being proposed, they are intended to end influence of the government on RSS and this is what the commission report had envisioned. We see similar debates to convert Gorkhapatra Corporation to independent body under parliamentary Information Committee or a cooperative organisation. Even in case of Radio Nepal and Nepal Television, the government is planning to convert them into public service broadcasting. What is needed now is the will to make these media organisations public.

(Maharjan is affiliated to an academic NGO Martin Chautari and writes on issues related to media and technology.) Source: https://risingnepaldaily.com/opinion/press-commission-recommendations


About the Author

Harsha Man Maharjan

Global Postdoctoral Scholar, Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South, Northwestern University in Qatar