This year, Nepal marked World Press Freedom Day with the theme: “Media for Democracy and Peace: Journalism and Elections in the Age of the Internet.” Nepal’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MoCIT), the Election Commission Nepal (ECN), the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) together with the European Union (EU), UNESCO Nepal and UNDP organised a one-day national conference to celebrate this occasion.
The event was addressed by dignitaries including the Minister for Communication, Information and Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota, the Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya, the UN Resident Coordinator Valerie Julliand, the British Ambassador to Nepal Richard Morris, the Ambassador of the EU Delegation to Nepal Veronica Cody, the FNJ Chairperson Govinda Acharya and Harihar Birahi, Former Chairperson, FNJ.
The Chief Election Commissioner emphasized that free, fair, accountable and professional media contribute to credible elections, and informed that the ECN will tap into the opportunities of digital media in its future communication and voter education strategies.
The Ambassador of the EU Delegation to Nepal shared that disinformation is a major challenge for credible elections across the world. She set out the four pillars of the EU Action Plan against disinformation, which include 1) detecting, analysing and exposing disinformation, 2) ensuring a coordinated response to disinformation, 3) mobilising the private sector to counter disinformation and 4) improving societal resilience.
The UN Resident Coordinator said that a transparent, free and reliable press ensures better governance, therefore contributing to justice, peace and sustainable development.
The conference was organised in six thematic panel discussions pertaining to new opportunities and challenges for the integrity of Nepal’s elections in the digital age; media and its role in supporting peace and democracy; voter education through mass media; social media policies and practices; digital media-portrayal of gender and social inclusion; and media policies conducive to peace and democracy.
Discussions rotated around key challenges posed by digital media today. Among others, the debates shed light on the need to take advantage of digital media and mass media to increase people’s access to information. Participants also discussed the limited access of women and disadvantaged groups to digital media and their marginalization, especially in electoral contexts. Suggestions have been raised to encourage an equal access to digital media, generate gender-sensitive and inclusive content and capitalize on the social media to express marginalized groups’ concerns. There was a general consensus on the need to adapt to digital technologies, more so in light of the 2022 elections. The event served to launch discussions around the digital age and its impact on elections, the electoral cycle, and ultimately peace and democracy.
The conference was attended by over 250 participants from various media houses, ECN, academia as well as national and international development partners to reinforce their support and commitment for World Press Freedom Day, and media for democracy and peace.
The Electoral Support Project- Phase II (ESP) is a technical assistance initiative which focuses on a long-term institutional and professional capacity development of the Election Commission (ECN) for conducting credible, inclusive and transparent elections. The objectives of the project are 1) to strengthen the capacity of the ECN to function as an independent and credible institution, 2) to allow the conduct of the election cycle in an effective, sustainable, and credible manner, and 3) to increase democratic participation, particularly for under-represented and disadvantaged segments of the Nepali society. ESP is currently funded by EU.