Blank editorials as Maoist vs media war escalates in Nepal

December 23rd, 2008 - 1:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 23 (IANS) In a unanimous move, Nepal’s leading newspapers Tuesday left the space meant for editorials blank to protest growing attacks against the media under the new Maoist government.The move revived memories of the fierce protests against censorship imposed by deposed king Gyanendra two years ago after an army-backed coup.

The war between the former guerrilla party and Nepal’s private media began escalating after police failed to take action against the people, alleged to be Maoist trade union activists, who had stormed a private media house, Himal Media, in Kathmandu valley Sunday and assaulted the staff.

Instead, a peaceful protest rally taken out by journalists in the capital Monday was attacked and several protesters injured.

Nepal’s powerful umbrella of journalists, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists that had called the protest, said the attack would cause it to intensify nationwide opposition to the attack on the media.

It has called for a sit-in Tuesday in front of the Singh Durbar, the heart of Nepal’s government where the prime minister’s office and key ministries are located, defying a ban on protests in the area.

Nepal’s private media Tuesday warned that the Maoists, who have killed at least three journalists even after signing a peace pact, were training their guns on other independent newspapers.

Two newspaper houses that had been rivals in the past but were united by Maoist attacks, said they too have come under threat.

The European Union (EU) has joined the growing ranks of organisations that have condemned the attack on Himal Media Sunday, allegedly led by two Maoist unions that were angered by the criticism of their militant trade union activities carried by the group’s publications.

A statement issued on behalf of the EU by the French Embassy in Kathmandu said the aggression represented “completely unacceptable behaviour within the framework of normal and democratic political life”.

Saying that press freedom was one of the most important components of democracy, the EU urged the government of Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to “use all its authority and influence to ensure freedom of expression in Nepal and take legal action against the perpetrators”.

The UN, US and media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders have already condemned the attacks and demanded immediate action.

A Maoist trade union Monday reportedly staged a sit-in in front of leading daily Kantipur’s office in Biratnagar town in east Nepal and warned they would close down the office and disrupt its distribution elsewhere if its demands were not met.

Personnel of APCA Nepal, the organisation marketing the Himalayan Times and its sister daily in Nepali, were reportedly assaulted by Maoist trade union activists in the capital Monday following an altercation over a signboard which the union had put up at the dailies’ office.

The growing public indignation pressured Prachanda into asking Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam and Information and Communications Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara to look into Sunday’s attack.

However, going by past trends, it is doubtful if the attackers would be brought to justice. The Maoist cadres named in the earlier murder of three journalists are still at large.

The cornered Maoists have been trying to distance themselves from the incident, blaming it on criminal elements who had infiltrated the party.

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