This year, the theme for the World Press Freedom Day is information as a public good. To celebrate this important day, a virtual event led by the Federation of Nepali Journalists, and supported by Election Commission, UNESCO and UNDP was organized on 3 May. There were over 80 participants at the event who joined the celebrations, including from the National Human Rights Commission; and development partners in Nepal.
The Honourable National Human Rights Commission Chair Top Bahadur Magar launched the South Asia Press Freedom Report and Federation of Nepali Journalists Annual Press Freedom Report at the event. The report includes chapters on how COVID-19 has impacted journalists; the various political arrests of journalists; cyber-bullying against journalists; how South Asia fares against the journalist-safety indicator.
Speaking at the event, the Chief Election Commissioner Honourable Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya shared that the day serves as an important reminder of the contributions of the journalists. He emphasized, “Free and fair elections are a prerequisite of democracy. And free and fair media is a prerequisite of elections.” He also highlighted the important collaborative role that the media play is helping disseminate civic and voter education materials to the citizens of the country. Utilizing the platform, the Chief Election Commissioner also alluded to potential by-elections for various vacant positions in the country, during the pandemic. He highlighted that the role of the media will be imperative in disseminating information to all.
The President of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, Mr. Bipul Pokhrel, highlighted the urgent need to ensure press freedom in the country – where journalists should be able to report in an environment free from fear. He also raised the need to formulate a policy that ensures the safety of journalists during pandemics. For this, he emphasized the need to collaborate with numerous stakeholders.
UNESCO Director Mr. Christian Manhart, addressing the event, shared that independent media is a strong indicator of development, good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights. Similarly, UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labé echoed that UNDP remains committed to achieving the sustainable development goals. Furthermore, and in relation to elections and press freedom, she expressed, “There is always room for misinformation to spread during pandemics. And this is where the important role of the journalists come in, in ensuring factual information is available to everyone – that it is indeed a public good.” Both the UNESCO and UNDP shared that UN remains committed to supporting the Government of Nepal, on its path to ensuring that no one is left behind in the development agenda.
The event brought out the voices of many journalists, who expressed the numerous challenges they face in their jobs, only aggravated by the pandemic: the issue of reporting in a secure environment; the issue of double-burden on female journalists, as well as the issue of women journalists being the first to be laid-off during the pandemic; the restrictions in movement because of the current prohibitory order; the issue of journalists advocating for their own security. But despite the challenges, they expressed their commitment to ethical journalism and reflected that press only strives in an environment where there is freedom.