A trial by media or a media under trial? Nepal is witnessing an unprecedented battle between the apex court and the country’s biggest media house — Kantipur Daily — with some international bodies including the International Federation of Journalists calling it a “gag on the press”.
Kantipur Publications, mainly its flagship Kantipur Daily, have run a series of articles alleging that Nepal’s Chief Justice Gopal Prasad Parajuli has given different dates of birth on various official documents in a bid to hold office past the legal retirement age.
Publication Chairman Kailash Sirohiya, his wife and Director Swasatika Sirohiya, along with Kantipur Daily editor-in-chief and a reporter have been summoned in person by Chief Justice Parajuli to depose and record their statement on Sunday in contempt of court charges. “No media is immune from contempt proceedings as the Constitution has a clear provision about it,” said a source in the Supreme Court.
“We have not written against the Chief Justice or the judiciary, but about a person in public life who has obtained multiple citizenships with different birth dates to acquire a post,” says Sudheer Sharma, editor-in-chief of Kantipur Daily. He added that the person with such credentials has to be accountable to the law, to ethics and to the institution he heads.
The Kantipur group had been exonerated in a contempt case last year when it carried a series of reports accusing Parajuli of rape, before he became the Chief Justice. The chief justice at the time, whose alleged rivalry with Parajuli was well known, allotted the case to a bench with judges belonging to rival factions in a highly polarised Supreme Court.
Only last week, Parajuli ordered the government to make proper laws and ensure equitable distribution of official advertisements in all media across Nepal. Kantipur group alone was getting at least 70 per cent of the government’s ad-budget distributed to private media houses last year.
Incidentally, the International Commission of Jurists, in which a former Supreme Court Chief Justice of Nepal, who was at loggerheads with Parajuli, is a member, also issued a statement asking the Supreme Court to drop the contempt proceedings.
“By hearing the against himself, Chief Justice Parajuli has made a mockery of the justice system,” said a Kantipur editorial last week.
But other big media houses are keeping silent towards the whole case. The Kantipur group has been criticised by some in the media profession for flexing its muscles. A month ago, a chief of Thaha Sanchar media group, Ajaya Sumargo, accused the Kantipur group of slander after it published articles accusing him of money laundering.