Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Embassy’s ‘media meddling’ draws widespread flak

Political party leaders, Parliamentary committees and advocacy groups have taken serious exception to statements issued by the Indian Embassy that questioned the integrity of the Nepali media, which have questioned the quality of an Indian joint venture product.

In defence of the Nepali media, they have said it is the responsibility of the free press to remain vigilant.

They have demanded the government summon Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood to inquire about the statement, saying that it is in breach of established diplomatic norms. Though no one would go on record

fearing reprisals from the Embassy, even some senior officials in the joint venture companies say the Embassy’s recent policy could make them a “needless victim”.

In its recent statements, the Indian embassy tried to portray the Nepali media in poor light, claiming that the joint venture has received negative media publicity because it failed to provide advertisements. The embassy statements, however, remain silent on the fact that some half a dozen Indian joint ventures had voiced strong reservations against the embassy policy, asking them to impose an ‘Ad blackout’ on those media houses that the embassy regards as “unfriendly.”

“We have in fact told the embassy that it would not be in our long-term commercial interest to ignore the media that have wide reach,” said a senior official of one of the joint ventures. “We are a commercial enterprise and our decisions should be solely based on commercial interests. Politically motivated decisions will unnecessary hurt us. If the embassy wants to take all the decisions for us, it might as well run our companies.”

Reacting to the issue, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament, Ram Krishna Yadav, on Tuesday said his committee would take up the issue. “The questions raised by the media regarding substandard products of an Indian joint venture have drawn our attention,” Yadav said at the Reporter’s Club.

“We will convene a meeting to hold discussions on the issue at the earliest.” The PAC is the second House committee to express concern over the issue.

On Monday, the House committee on International Relations and Human Rights unanimously condemned the Indian embassy’s statements, directing the government to seek a clarification from Indian Ambassador Sood.

Expressing solidarity with the Nepali media fraternity, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) took strong exception to the statement. “FNJ believes that the embassy’s statement targeting the Nepali media is improper and uncalled-for. FNJ completely disagrees with the statement,” the umbrella body of Nepali journalists said in a statement. It also said it is preparing a detailed report on the recent developments vis-a-vis the embassy’s reactions on Nepali media and vice versa.

CPN-UML leader K.P. Oli said no one should interfere in the freedom of the press in the nation. “No one has the authority to question the people’s right to information,” Oli said in an interview with a radio station. “Consumers have the right to consume quality products.”

Nepali Congress central working committee leader Deep Kumar Upadhyaya and UML leader Pradip Gyawali said it was unfortunate to see that there was needless diplomatic response to what is clearly a commercial issue. “There could have been other ways to clarify the media reports, if they were erroneous,” said Gyawali.

Sadbhawana Party leader Laxman Lal Karna urged the government to investigate the issue. “It is the media’s responsibility to point out the wrongs in the society,” said Karna. “The Indian embassy’s statement is an attack on the free media.”

Similarly, Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, Rakam Chemjong, urged the government to seek an explanation from the Indian envoy. Talking to reporters in Dhankuta, Chemjong said the freedom of the press must be respected and everybody should keep it free from intervention.

Contrary to the Indian Embassy’s claims that the media reports were fabricated, the news reports, among others, are based on lab reports from the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC), a government agency. The DFTQC report released earlier this month said the Dabur juice contained inedible substances, including worms. This was widely covered by the electronic and print media.

Concluding that the Indian statement was a direct attack on the country’s sovereignty and press freedom, the Nepali media fraternity has sought an apology from the embassy.

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