An Assessment Based on UNESCO's Journalist Safety Indicators
"Societies rely upon public interest journalism for their supply of current information and knowledge. This is why UNESCO gives special attention to press freedom, which is based on the universal human right to free expression. To be meaningful, however, press freedom requires that the people doing journalistic work should not have to fear being attacked for doing their job." - Guy Berger, UNESCO's Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development
This United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report documents the national state of journalists' safety and the issue of impunity by providing an overview of the safety situation of journalists in Nepal. It also examines the context of safety and the responsibility of all stakeholders in addressing the issue of journalists' safety in the country. Based on UNESCO's Media Development Indicators (MDI), UNESCO's Journalists' Safety Indicators (JSI) are developed within the context of the endorsement of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, providing a baseline of knowledge against which progress can be assessed. Using various methods, including document analysis and interviews with various informants, this research documents the actors and actions in place for the protection of journalists in Nepal, grouped around 4 key indicator categories, namely: the roles and response of the State and other political actors; the roles and response of civil society and academia; the roles and response of media and intermediaries; and the roles and response of the UN system and other extra-national actors with a presence in Nepal. In an overview of the situation of journalists' safety in Nepal, this report also provides information on the number of threats and attacks on journalists in the course of their work. Appendix one describes the methodology and sources of data in more detail.
The study was conducted by Development Communication Society Nepal, SODEC-Nepal in consultation with UNESCO. This activity was funded by UNESCO's Intergovernmental Programme on Development of Communication (IPDC), which is a multilateral forum that promotes a healthy environment for the growth of free and pluralistic media in developing countries. The report was developed through a multi-stakeholder engagement and consultation process that included a media stakeholders meeting held on February 20 2015 and a second consultation meeting on June 9 2015. A peer review exercise of the study was also carried out before its publication.
According to the 2014 annual report of Press Council Nepal (PCN), there has in recent years been a huge growth in terms of quantity in the media sector. However, the situation is not as good when media ownership, operation process, content, and work environment are observed. A growing trend in media ownership in various districts is journalists' joint ventures with political leaders and/or local business community to a publish local newspaper or to operate a local FM radio station. In some cases, a group of local journalists own the media organisation. During consultation meetings organised for the purpose of present study, stakeholders criticised media organisations for lack of transparency with regard to their ownership and financial status. They also pointed to a lack of sufficient safety training and equipment for the journalists. They complained that media houses are not providing a framework of standard procedures and safety protocols and often fail to provide insurance policies for journalists. According to the International Press Institute (IPI), safety "starts with the individual journalist and how they are trained, how they think, what they do and how they behave whilst doing their jobs." In Nepal, many stakeholders opine that making journalists professionally strong is the solution to most of the problems they are facing. It is widely emphasised that most of the immediate safety challenges can be handled by a professionally strong journalist.
In brief, the study finds that, in Nepal, "journalism remains professionally weak and economically insecure, and the journalists are in highly vulnerable condition in terms of physical and psychological safety. Nearly half of the journalists do not have any appointment letter or contract from their employers and the journalism profession in Nepal is characterized by low wages, irregular payments, poor working conditions, and declining credibility among the public. Journalists perceive that they are prone to be victimised by both State and non-State actors, and the prolonged political transition has further complicated their security situation." According to the report, though there has been a significant decrease in reported cases of violence/threats against journalists in recent years, many cases of threats against journalists go unreported. The status of women journalists is even more complicated, because they are more vulnerable than their male colleagues in terms of professional as well as psychological and physical safety. "Though journalists' safety is becoming an agenda of national interest, a common understanding of the stakeholders on the issue, as well as a national strategy to identify targets and role-players responsible for journalist safety issues, are lacking."
As detailed here, there is no specific law that deals exclusively with protecting the physical and psychological safety of journalists in Nepal, but there are general public laws that can be used to protect journalists. "There is lack of congruence between the State's normative statements and the ground reality with regard to journalists' safety. The criminal and civil justice system has not been effective to deal with threats and acts of violence against journalists. There is no specific State mechanism or unit particularly assigned for updating and publishing the updated data about attacks on journalists and impunity."
The report notes that media organisations have not taken a proactive role on safety issues, although journalists' unions and associations, including that of women journalists, are actively working to monitor safety issues and to advocate to employers and authorities. They are also engaged in providing training but have yet to focus on stress counselling to journalists. Journalists do not seem much aware of protection measures in digital communication, and there is lack of specific policy and institutional mechanisms for digital safety. Whereas the academia's involvement to promote journalists' safety is yet to be realised, some civil society organisations (CSOs) in Nepal have been involved in monitoring and sharing information about journalists' safety issues, generally approaching it from a human rights perspective. Their work mostly involves monitoring, information, and advocacy; practical support initiatives are mostly non-existent currently. "A number of international organisations have been playing important role, directly or indirectly, to monitor and share information about journalists' safety issues, promote co-ordinated approaches to safety issues and build knowledge and capacity of journalists. Meanwhile, systematic, cumulative and sustainable mechanisms to promote journalists' safety in Nepal are yet to be developed."
In this context, the report emphasises the importance of sensitising major stakeholder groups (State institutions and political actors, CSOs and academia, and media actors and intermediaries, as well as the UN system and other international actors) for evaluation and revision of their roles and responsibilities. "It is also pertinent to make the authorities accountable for their duties with regard to journalists' safety and impunity issues. Media organisations need to take up protection for their employees and their freelancers. It is equally important to update existing laws and policies and/or enact new specific ones to address journalists' safety and adapt with the context of digital era. It is also crucial to ensure pertinent and adequate institutions, programmes and budgets, and strengthen existing institutions to enhance their effectiveness. There needs to be more emphasis on systematic (not ad-hoc) collaborations and co-ordination among major stakeholders to formulate the required policies and strategies to address gaps detected in order to promote safety. It means that the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity requires proactive, systematic and cumulative treatment in a sustainable manner with a multi-stakeholder approach in practice."
UNESCO website, January 2 2017. Image credit: ©UNESCO/Mukunda Bogati