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Good news and bad news for journalists

Lawmakers of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on September 2 registered an amendment proposal to the already controversial Media Council Bill that would require aspiring journalists to pass a written examination to start a career in journalism.

 

Press Council Nepal, Kathmandu. Picture Credit: Bishwas Shrestha

MP Thagendra Prakash Puri and fourteen of his colleagues have proposed that journalists would have to take an examination that would be offered twice a year by the Press Council, under the supervision of a three-member committee. According to the proposal, only those with a bachelor’s degree in journalism or those with a bachelor’s degree in other disciplines with three years of experience in the field would be allowed to take the test. MP Bimala Paudyal also registered a separate amendment proposal with a similar clause.

The amendment, reportedly drafted in consultation with members of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, has drawn widespread criticism from media professionals and civil society for being unfairly restrictive. Some journalists have challenged members of parliament to set similar criteria for entry into politics or to contest elections before attempting to regulate journalists.

In good news for journalists, though, NCP members have agreed to revise the proposed fine of up to Rs 1 million for journalists found to be in violation of the Press Council’s code of conduct. The party’s members of federal parliament have given up on the fine, and now propose that the Council mediate to seek to reconcile disputes about potential code of conduct violations.

Eight other amendments to the bill have been tabled, including one from the opposition Nepali Congress, which also demanded removal of the proposed fines, and other provisions it said would curtail press freedom.

A day after the amendment, the international organization Human Rights Watch urged Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to revise the Media Council Bill as well as the Information Technology Bill and the Mass Communication Bill, saying that the draft legislations threatened freedom of expression.

Step down and rest, NC’s Gagan Thapa advises PM Oli

Nepali Congress MP Gagan Thapa has urged Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to step down and hand over the reins of government to another leader from his Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Speaking in parliament on September 4, Thapa said that Oli’s prolonged absences and poor health were having an adverse impact on national security and diplomatic dealings. “He might have strong willpower, but he hasn’t been able to discharge his duties due to his poor health,” Thapa said, further suggesting that Oli should be resting, in view of his deteriorating health.

NC leader Gagan Thapa. Picture Credit: Colleges in Nepal

On 6 September, PM Oli returned to Kathmandu from Singapore, where he had been for two weeks, being treated for kidney-related complications at Singapore National University Hospital. It was his second visit to Singapore in a month.

Lalita Niwas scam: VIPs now being questioned

The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has begun taking statements from various high-profile people, including politicians, about their alleged connection to the Lalita Niwas land scam. The anti-graft body has already interviewed more than 100 people, including current and former tenants, bureaucrats and a former cabinet minister. On September 4, the CIAA issued a public notice summoning 58 individuals still out of contact. CIAA spokesperson Pradeep Koirala said that the commission would get testimonies from all people involved in the case, including government officials, tenants.

Laita Niwas. Picture Credit: Jemima Sherpa

The case involves the transfer of 113 ropani and 3 aana of the government-owned land in the vicinity of the prime minister’s residence in Baluwatar to various individuals through unlawful means. The land in question also includes 3 ropani and 10 ana of land in the Prime Minister’s residence premises, and 2 ropani and 14 ana of land on the premises of the residence of the Supreme Court chief justice.

A probe committee formed in April of this year under former secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, Sharada Prasad Trital, found that, since 1990, various democratically elected governments had transferred pieces of land to the heirs of the late Nepali Congress president Subarna Shumsher Rana, the original owner. The government had bought the land from him in 1965. Since then, the land had been sold from the heirs to various high-profile politicians and businesspeople. Some of the present tenants of the controversial land include Nabin Paudel, son of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) general secretary Bishnu Poudel, Min Bahadur Gurung, owner of the Bhatbhateni supermarket, and former Supreme Court justices.

Investigate the government’s 17 scams: NC

Picture Credit: Nepali Congress / Facebook

The Nepali Congress on September 4 demanded an investigation into high-profile corruption scandals. Following a meeting of its Central Working Committee (CWC), the main opposition party issued statement detailing 17 allegations against the government that it demanded be investigated including: the wide-body aircraft procurement scam, the sugar scam, the Lalita Niwas land scam, the Biratnagar Jute Mill scam, the delays and corruption allegations around the Melamchi Water Supply Project, the NCell tax evasion scam, and the alleged irregularities surrounding the Budhi Gandaki Hydropower Project. The party has threatened to launch protests if the government does not “change its working style” and “stop making a mockery of laws”.

Panel to investigate why cows died, Hindu nationalist mayor launches own probe

The Ministry of Home Affairs has formed a panel to probe into the deaths of 26 cows.

On August 29, 370 cattle were loaded onto eight trucks to be transported from Nepalgunj to Dailekh district at the order of the Nepalgunj sub-metropolitan city office. The cows were allegedly being transported because there were too many cows in Nepalgunj, and Chief District Officer Madan Bhujel of Banke said his office had given permission to take the cows elsewhere after he was told that they were to be raised by farmers. According to a Republica report, some of these cows were pushed off the trucks and over cliffs, and 26 cows were killed.

Picture Credit: The Himalayan Times

The four-member panel, led by undersecretary Sagarmani Pathak, is charged with determining the cause of these deaths and why the Nepalgunj sub-metropolitan city decided to send cattle all the way to Dailekh. The panel has also been asked to recommend ways to tackle the problem of abandoned cattle, especially along Nepal-India border. Nepalgunj mayor Dhawal Shumsher Rana has also ordered a separate investigation into the incident.

The case has generated a lot of attention not just because the cow is the national animal that many Hindus hold sacred, but also because many accused of negligence — including Mayor Rana — are members of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal that uses the cow as its election symbol and demands restoration of the Hindu monarchical state.

Chinese foreign minister arrives today

Picture Credit: The Diplomat

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is to arrive for a two-day visit to Kathmandu on September 8, said sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yi will arrive in Kathmandu via Islamabad, after attending the Pakistan-Afghanistan-China trilateral meeting there. Yi’s visit has fueled widespread media interest amid unconfirmed reports that Chinese President Xi Jingping will visit Nepal later this year.

By-elections on, new parties must register by Sep 17

The Election Commission of Nepal has urged political parties to register for by-elections slated for November 30. On September 2, spokesperson Shanker Prasad Kharel said that all political parties that did not contest local, state, or federal elections in 2017-18 needed to register with the commission before September 17.

Picture Credit: AppAdvice

The EC will conduct by-elections for 51 vacant positions: 42 ward chairs, 3 chairs of rural municipalities, three National Assembly members, one House of Representatives member, one urban municipality mayor, and one deputy chair of a rural municipality.

There are currently 132 political parties registered with the Election Commission.