Economic downturn takes toll on Nepali media: Freedom Forum’s report unveils disturbing trends in 2023

KATHMANDU: Freedom Forum’s latest annual media report highlights the significant impact of the economic downturn on Nepal’s media landscape in 2023. The report outlines a series of challenges, including a decline in the advertisement market, the shift of ads to digital platforms, governmental indifference to law and policy reform, widespread retrenchment in media houses, ongoing intimidation of journalists, mismanagement of social media, and the proliferation of mis- and disinformation polluting the information ecosystem.

The report reveals a total of 52 incidents of press freedom violations in Nepal during the past year, directly affecting more than 59 journalists, including nine females. This represents a worrisome rise compared to the previous year, signaling a disturbing trend in the nature of violations.

Bagmati province tops the list of violations, with online journalists being the primary targets among various forms of media. Among the affected journalists, 10 faced intimidation through social media.

The highest combined number of attacks and manhandling incidents was 23, followed by 19 threats. Additionally, nine journalists were subjected to misbehavior, six were obstructed from reporting, and two were arrested and detained.

Two online media offices and two print media offices were also attacked, with individuals barging in and threatening staff over investigative and critical media content.

The report notes the absence of any response from state agencies to address impunity related to crimes against journalists in 2023. Despite the release of drafts for the National Mass Communication Bill and Media Council Bill by the government seeking public input, the report questions whether the recommendations will be considered in the final bills.

The report also discusses the formulation of media-related bills in Bagmati, Gandaki, Lumbini, and Koshi provinces.

A severe decline in the advertisement market led to significant retrenchment in the media sector, including the curtailment of newspaper pages, mass layoffs, closure of regional media offices, and job hopping among journalists. Out of over 4,000 online media outlets in Nepal, very few are reported to be running comfortably. Advertisements have shifted to digital platforms such as Meta, WhatsApp, Viber, and others, posing new challenges to both traditional and digital/online media.

The report cites a Freedom Forum study, indicating that around 100 media outlets from seven provinces ceased operations in 2023, and approximately 243 media persons quit their jobs.

Despite various challenges faced by the digital sphere, from TikTok bans to the blocking of online portals, the report also emphasizes the difficulties faced by citizens, media persons, and media houses due to the spread of misinformation and disinformation online.

The categorization of data on press freedom violations is a significant feature of the annual report, which also welcomes the National Human Rights Commission’s decision to enhance the journalists’ safety mechanism based on recommendations from stakeholders.

The report concludes with an observation on the little to no reporting on people’s problems and government activities due to financial constraints in media, emboldening government and political parties to suppress media freedoms and co-opt media persons.

Taranath Dahal, Executive Chief at Freedom Forum, has called  for a shift from criminal law to civil law in formulating media-related laws and policies, aligning with Nepal’s constitutional provisions and international human rights standards. Dahal also underscored the need to boost the advertisement industry and urges the government to distribute advertisements fairly and proportionally.

Fiscal Nepal |
Tuesday January 2, 2024, 02:23:25 PM |

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