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A tool to promote freedom of expression, online media urged to prove their credibility

Kathmandu, June 20

Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Rekha Sharma, has said freedom of expression and the freedom to exercise politics were vital components of an inclusive democratic republic.

Media and political parties fought together for the achievement of inclusive democratic republic as interests for freedom of expression and opinion, and political freedom were intersected and the accomplishment was possible, she explained.

The Minister was addressing an interaction on Online TV: Opportunities and Challenges organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) here today.

“In the past one decade, the area of information technology has experienced a rapid development surpassing advancements in other sectors. However, there is a huge gap between the pace of technological progress and the development of relevant laws and regulations, and this has obviously added challenges for this sector. Formulation of a Mass Communications Act and an IT Act are awaited,” the Minister said.

Describing online journalism as one of milestone achievements of the generation, the Minister insisted that its practice should never be for invading on individual’s right to privacy, for character assassination and for tarnishing social life of an individual. “Role of media either it is online or other means of communications must be to enrich democracy and improve the rights of the citizens.”

The Communications and Information Technology Minister said, “As other forms of journalism, online media has norms, values and ethics, and whether or not these values are being followed and promoted is a big question at present. Since the COVID-19, it seems that technology is an indispensable part of our life. It is our collective responsibilities and duties to promote digital literacy and contribute to the creation of a safe and just digital space.”

Lawmaker Bidya Bhattarai said a rich democracy in absence of a strong media was not imaginable and that a reliable communications sector had been greatly realized in the present time. “Technology has brought numerous opportunities, but its use not be burden for or harm others.”

The lawmaker was of the view that State should not take a controlling approach regarding online media.

Senior Vice President of Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) Ramesh Bista urged online media practitioners to ensure that their contents are accurate and not twisted, and are capable of maintaining the public trust. He emphasized that online media should come into a journalistic framework sooner than later.

Chairperson of Nepal Telecommunications Authority, Purushottam Khanal told the platform that digital transformation was awaited in Nepal. “Internet is like a sharp weapon and its impact depends on how it is used.” As he shared on the occasion, the number of smart phone users in Nepal is 73 percent. “Regulation of online media will safeguard it during crisis, instead of squeezing its space.”

Founding Chair of Online TV Journalists’ Association, Jeevan Bhandari, urged the State to recognize the value of online media in this digital era, acknowledging it as an effective and powerful means of communications. “It has led to globalization of media, becoming a platform for exploring issues which have been previously overlooked or overshadowed.”

Advocate Baburam Aryal advised the government to develop its ‘positive’ perception towards online media by realising their essence and strength in this era of digital technology.”It is a platform to enable freedom of expression and any offence regarding this should be dealt under the general code rather than criminalizing them.”

Human rights matter while using online media

Talking about the flip side of online media, majority of the participants highlighted on the need of just use of internet and thus online media.

They were concerned over rising cases of cybercrime with growing use of internet. “Internet is boon of the time and its use unavoidable and vital. But people’s fundamental human rights should not be violated while using it,” they asserted.

Various issues concerning digital space such as cyber bullying, digital literacy, self-regulation of online media, data security and data privacy, right to privacy, right to information and right to communications were raised during the discussions.

A group of participants were concerned over the violation of human rights especially of women and children in the digital space. According to them, essence of online journalism is unavoidable, but they should at least aware that their contents do not violate the privacy of them and hurt their dignity.

By Pabitra Guragain

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