Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gorkhapatra Corporation Act 2019 v.s: An Analysis

Here is my working paper I prepared in 2007.

People took the Gorkhaptra Sasthan (GS) as a government-owned media institution. They are not wrong. On many occasions it has performed like that. From its beginning it has always spoken mind of rulers: Ranas, political parties in government, king etc.

This paper tries to find reasons for its biased and establishment-oriented reporting (Rana 1982). Here I will analyze provisions of the Gorkhaptra Corporation Act 2019 (1963). This act was amended for several times. Yet its main issues of political appointments remained unchanged. A loophole in the act gave rulers a way to exclude general people from participating in decision making process. In this paper I will argue that real intentions of ruler was and is never to make the organization autonomous though there might be some provisions to include private sector. The first part of this paper is about background of the GS. Next part discusses provisions of the act. At last there is a conclusion.

Background of the Gorkhapatra Sasthan
The GS has direct relation with the Gorkhaptra, oldest newspaper in Nepal. This newspaper was started in 1901 with a special decree as a mouth piece of the Rana government. Press Commission 2014 (1957) requested government to stop the Gorkhaptra ( Press Council Nepal 2060 v.s ). This shows people’s contempt towards the GS in post 1950s. Yet Nepalese governments after 1950s kept on misusing it.

In 1961 King Mahendra assumed power. He merged two independent news agencies and formed Rastriya Sambad Samiti. In this scenario the Gorkhapatra Corporation Act was enacted and the Gorkhaptra was turned into an autonomous corporation in March 1963 by a special Act. (Pokharel and Koirala 1995). Later it started to publish other newspapers, magazines etc. Thus it has become a publishing house. Today people are requesting government to turn it into a public media house.

Its two publications: Gorkhaptra and The Rising Nepal always work in the side of people in governments. It was mouth-piece of panchayat government. After 1990 movement there was popular demand for providing autonomy to the GS. But governments never fulfilled this demand. During state of emergency in 2001 it sided with the government (Bhattarai 2004). It did same after Royal take over after 1 Feb 2005 (Paudyal and other 2007). And it is repeating the same mistakes. There are some weaknesses in the act which create environment for this kind of misuse.

Gorkhapatra Sasthan Act 2019 v.s and Its provisions
No act remains forever. It needs amendments to incorporate changes in organizations. The GS act was amended in different political situation. Till 2007 January it was amended for five times. But every time it did were cosmetic changes. Governments never took major steps to close ways to stop government control in the GS. People demanded to make this organization public media organization. Their demands went unheard and unfulfilled.
We can discuss the act in following topics:
a. Autonomy
Autonomy of an organization is a contentious issue. When an organization becomes autonomous? Legally mentioning the term in any act is not enough. What we need to see its autonomy is in practice. The act says the GS an autonomous organization. Article 3 of the act defines the GS as an autonomous organization. What that autonomy means is that it can own properties and participate in legal activities. That means its autonomy only provides it legal identity and it does not stop government interference.

Yet the GS has to take permission from government to purchase, sell and mortgage property in some situations. According to article 18 of the act it must seek permission from government before buying properties of worth Nepali Rs 10000,000 or more, to mortgage its properties for more than ten years and to sell its properties of worth Nepali Rs 5,00000 or more. That means the provision of article 18 reduces the GS’s rights to do business defined by article 3. It is like doing business under the supervision of father who thinks his child is not grown enough to do business of large amount. And the child still needs his supervision.

We know Rana started the Gorkhapatra to disseminate their views. At that time it was run through the mindset of the Authoriatarian media system. In this system governments not only control other media even start their own to counter others (Siebert 1956).

At this situation we could hardly think about autonomous media institution. In the Gorkhapatra Sasthan’s case it was established in Panchayat system. In a way it is the period of absolute monarchy. Every thing was under the king. Democratic governments after 1991 never stopped the role of the business man I discussed before. To link the role of the GS in democratic political setup we have to depend on John Nerone. He equates concentration of media in any institution and entity as a form of authoritarian media system (Nerone 1995).

b. Popular Participation:

Participation gives feeling of owning to people. There are very few ways of people participation in media organizations and their programs. They can give feedback to programs through letters, phone calls, email etc. These days there are SMS polls and interaction program in tv channels where people participate. But this is limited participation. Full participation is to having a say in media houses’ policy, plans and programs.

Article 4 of the GS act has made a way for people participation. It has a provision of flouting its share to its staffs and general people. It has made obligatory to distribute 25 percent of its share to its staff and remaining to general people after keeping 50 percent by government.

When Panchayat government enacted this act, government could keep 60 percentages of the total share and sale remaining to general people and cooperatives (Shree Panch ko Sarkar 2019 v.s). This provision was changed to 51 % for government, 25 % for staff and remaining to general people in 2028 v.s amendment ( Shree Panch ko Sarkar 2028 v.s). This provision is still alive. But no governments dared to sell the shares of the Sasthan.

c. Executive Committee: Political Appointment.

The act has made a provision of a five member-executive committee. Original act enacted in 2019 v.s had made provision of 9 members (5 from government and 4 from others). It had also mentioned that till government did not sell share to others, government would appoint all the members of executive committee (Shree Panch ko Sarkar 2019 v.s).
When it was amended in 2028 v.s, it made a provision of a five member-executive committee that is three from government and two from other shareholders (staff and general people). It even mentioned that government did not sell share to others it could appoint all executive members (Shree Panch ko Sarkar 2028 v.s). Now owing to this act government appoints all members. That’s why we see change in these people as there is change in government. Even journalists and editors are changed when government changes. It also affects in journalism. In this situation professional journalism is a day dream.

Even National Communication Policy 2049 v.s (1992) urged government to flout shares. This process is also linked with executive committee. If there had been distribution of share as the act says, there would have two members in executive committee from staffs and general people. That means there was possibility of opposition to government from two members of executive committee. This was a mechanism to check and balance governments’ action in side the GS.

As said above the governments never did this by citing another provision of the act. This act has a loophole too. Till government don’t flout share to others, government can nominate all members of executive committee.

So to make the GS independent media organization, the act must be amended. The government must decide to make it autonomous in real sense. Today people are demanding to make this corporation a public media organization. For this government has to frame new act. Old one is not enough.

Bhattarai, Binod. 2004. Nepali Press Under Emergency: A Survey of the First Six Months. Kathmandu: Himal Books
Pokharel, Gokul Prasad. 1995. Mass Media Laws and Regulations in Nepal. Kathmandu: Nepal Press Institute.
Poudyal, Badri and others. 2000. News in Crisis: A Study of the State of the Nepali Press During the King’s Rule (February-April 2005). Kathmandu: Himal Books.
Press Council Nepal. 2060 v.s. Press Commission Report 2015 v.s. In Prakashan Ko Digdarshan. pp. 266—383. Kathmandu: Press Council Nepal.
Nerone, John. 1995. Authoritarianism and Liberalism. In Last Rights: Revisiting Four Theories of the Press. John Nerone, ed. Pp. 31-76. Urbanana: University of Illinois Press.
Rana, Bhola B. Nepal. In Newspapers in Asia: Contemporary Trends and Problems. John A. Lent, ed. Pp. 462-479. Kula Lumpus: Heinemann Asia.
Shree Panch ko Sarkar. 2019 v.s. Gorkhapatra Sasthan Ain, 2019 v.s. Nepal Gazettee, 30 Chaitra.
Shree Panch ko Sarkar. 2028 v.s. Gorkhapatra Sasthan (Pahilo Samshodhan) Ain, 2028 v.s. Nepal Gazettee, 29 Magh.
Siebert, Fred S. 1956. The Authortarian Theory of the Press. In Four Theories of the Press. Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm. Pp. 9-37. Urbana: University of Illinois.

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