Saturday, February 19, 2005

An Account from Kantipur TV News Staff on Censoring

This report was written several days ago and recounts the moment immediately preceding the coup when the military took control of Nepali broadcast facilities prior to the announcement of the coup by King Gyanendra.

The army began cordoning our office premises at around 9:30 (0445GMT) in the morning, some half an hour ahead of the Royal Proclamation… the state-owned radio and television had already announced that King Gyanendra was going to address the nation. Nothing more than that had been said, except that the King had summoned the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and chiefs of security agencies for a Royal audience.

As the group of armymen covered the periphery of the premises, an army major, in his military outfit and a gun, asked for an entry into the television station's newsroom. He politely said that he was here to provide security to the office in case an incident like September 1 occurs (On Sept 1, following the killing of 12 Nepalis in Iraq, there were riots in the city...the rioters had vandalized the office, burning several vehicles and pelting stones on the office building).

All of us, almost the entire news team, watched the Royal Proclamation live on the state owned television. Following the proclamation, the army major asked whether he could visit the control room. By then, the telephone lines were already cut and the cellular phones were cut during the address to the nation itself.

He was promptly shown the studio and news control room of the television station. A lot of confusion had already been created with the announcement of emergency, following the sacking of the then government. A lot of fundamental rights were suspended with the announcement.

The following rights have been suspended:

  • Freedom of opinion and expression
  • Freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms
  • Freedom to form unions and associations
  • Press and Publication Rights
  • Rights against preventive detention
  • Right to information
  • Right to property
  • Right to privacy
  • Right to constitutional remedy through writ jurisdiction (Writs like mandamus, certiorari, prohibition and quo warranto), except habeas corpus

As a matter of fact, not many of us knew what line to follow as far as the news was concerned. So one of the bulletin spot was used to re-telecast the proclamation. In the following bulletin, all the scripts were screened by the Army major. An armed army man was present within the news control room throughout the bulletin. The screening continued throughout the day, including all the bulletins. The same was the case with all of our daily publications and the FM radio news. The armymen
cordoned the premises throughout the night.

The following day, King announced a cabinet of ministers. So we prepared a report on all the cabinet members, which included their positions. Incidentally, the report also talked about the ministers holding some important positions during the Panchayat regime (the non-party political system, which was overthrown by the popular movement in 1990). That news, aired at 1200 local time, was said to be bold under the prevailing circumstances. The army major told us that the news should not go in the format written and those parts had to be deleted from it. So those parts
were removed in our subsequent bulletins.

The same day, we had aired an international news, which had it that the Marxist guerrillas had killed 14 Colombian marines, in Colombia. We ran the news in three of our bulletins, starting in the morning. The army major, very polite in his conversations, requested to remove that news as well. The reason: that could be detrimental to our security forces' morale. The word communist had its effect.

The armymen stayed within the premises for three days and the screening went on a regular basis. One of our bulletins had to be aired two minutes late, because the Major had not finished reading the news then. On the third evening, the army left. But before leaving, they cautioned us to follow the guidelines issued by the government while disseminating news. And we have been following that ever since.

An interesting pattern of news had emerged in the whole media. While some papers had editorials on archery, weather and significance of socks, our regular section of vox-pop in the prime time news, called Janamat, had people being asked the importance of fruits in one's diet. While that was being aired, the control room crew had a hearty laugh. That also prompted the news-anchor to smile. Eventually, the chief of news was asked from a certain person close to the Royal Palace (although he did not reveal the identity and name of the person) on why did the news-anchor had that mocking smile on his face, while reading that particular section. Well, perceptions...

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