Last year, as the draft Constitution was being finalised, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) said that the proposed reference to press freedom was insufficient and that there should be a guarantee of ‘complete press freedom’. There was never any serious debate on what the FNJ meant by this or the difference between absolute press freedom and press freedom. However, political parties and the constituent assembly ignored the demand. All they did was to promise unhindered press freedom, refusing to add the word ‘complete’ in the statute when the Constitution was delivered on September 20, last year.
The old Constitution after Nepal’s journey to multi-party democracy in 1990 had promised that under no circumstances would the registration of any media (print) be cancelled. However, a government can create a situation in which it is impossible for a publication to exist or operate.
This is precisely the charge levelled by The South Asia Trust against the government while deciding to ‘suspend’ the Quarterly magazine in the 29th year of its existence. “The South Asia Trust regrets to announce the suspension of publication of Himal South Asianthe pioneering magazine promoting ‘cross-border journalism’ in the
region. A decision to this effect was taken by the Trust’s Executive Board on 22 August, due to non-cooperation by regulatory state agencies in Nepal that has made it impossible to continue operations after 29 years of publication,” said S Mishra, Trust Executive Board Secretary.
The decision follows a few months after the man behind the whole project and its Executive Head, Kanak Dikshit, was embroiled in a bitter fight with the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Authority, the anti-corruption body, investigating alleged irregularities in the Sajha cooperative transport – a government body to promote public transport on cooperative principle – that Dikshit heads.
The probe went much beyond the ‘transport deal’ and brought into the public domain the large properties held by the Dikshits in Nepal and abroad, and details of foreign funding for their various projects including theHimal South Asian magazine. The Supreme Court has given some relief to Kanak Dikshit but the journalist, civil society leader, and philanthropist has been hit hard by the probe. The magazine’s closure is a clear proof of that.
“Relying as it does on external funding support, Himal’s publisher The South Asia Trust has adhered to the strict regimen of rules and regulations that govern its day-to-day functioning. Government officials in the various regulatory departments privately admit that the Trust has been in full compliance but regret their inability to
process papers due to “pressures”, citing powerful state entities who they refuse to name on the record,”, said a Trust statement.
It also revealed that grants meant for Himal were not approved over a seven month period, obtaining work permits for non-Nepali editorial staff became impossible, and there were unreasonable delays in processing payments for international contributors. “Our dwindling workforce tried to overcome these and other challenges, but in the end
suspension was the only option,” the statement added.
While the whole truth behind the circumstances leading to its suspension are yet to come out, the closure of the magazine removes a platform that the regional think tank felt was its ‘own’.