Independence of umbrella organization of Nepali journalists comes under scrutiny

The FNJ is supposed to be an organization that promotes freedom of expression, journalists’ rights, and independence. But its incumbent officials are vying for public positions in major political parties.

Prasun Sangroula

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Kathmandu: The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), an umbrella organization of Nepali journalists, is mired in controversy after its office bearers openly flouted its code of conduct.

Not just general members of the FNJ, even its central committee members and other office bearers are vying for different positions in major political parties—Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, both of which are hosting their general conventions this month. Moreover, some members of the FNJ are formally affiliated with other major political parties, including UCPN (Maoist Center).

Candidacy in political parties is clearly against the spirit of the statute of FNJ. This also violates the code of conduct for journalists issued by the Press Council of Nepal, with the consent of the FNJ itself. Doing so directly affects the independence of journalists.

“On the basis of this universally accepted principle of editorial freedom, journalists and mass media should collect information and publish or broadcast news, views and comment independently remaining free from any pressure and influence,” the Press Council code of conduct states.

But the political maneuvering of FNJ members suggests quite the opposite. Forget the general members, even its central committee members have been openly contesting for positions in political parties.

This is strange. The reality is that, ironically, FNJ is full of non-journalists, said a former president under conditions of anonymity. “The federation has now evolved into an organization that cannot uphold core values of journalism—neutrality, independence, and impartiality.”

The FNJ is in confusion. It has not been able to fulfill its duties and hasn’t taken action against those who are breaching its norms.

FNJ is also a member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). And its code of conduct also instructs journalists to operate independently, without being involved in party politics.

IFJ’s code of conduct states: “Within the general law of each country the journalist shall recognize in matters of professional honor, the jurisdiction of independent self-regulatory bodies open to the public, to the exclusion of every kind of interference by governments or others.”

Needless to say, the FNJ breaches this code of conduct as well.

FNJ is an organization supposed to be the voice of journalists. But today, it has degenerated into a platform for power exercise. The FNJ has increasingly become a hotbed for unethical practices, further damaging the organization’s already sketchy reputation.

On Monday, the FNJ, perhaps in an attempt to salvage its reputation, issued a press release urging journalists to follow its code of conduct by staying away from active party politics.

FNJ is an organization supposed to be the voice of journalists. But today, it has degenerated into a platform for power exercise. The FNJ has increasingly become a hotbed for unethical practices, further damaging the organization’s already sketchy reputation. 

“We have already asked our member journalists to withdraw their candidacy, and some of them have already agreed to it,” Bipul Pokharel, president of FNJ, told Nepal Live Today. “If they do not withdraw their candidacy, we will ask for clarification from them and take action according to FNJ’s statute.”

It is a question of ethics and morality, Pokharel further said, adding that Central Committee members are supposed to abide by the organization’s ethical requirements.

At a time when many of Nepal’s core institutions have been compromised, it is unfortunate to see the erosion in professional and ethical values in the umbrella organization of journalists, an organization that is supposed to play the role of a ‘watchdog’, by holding power to account, a former office-bearer of FNJ told Nepal Live Today.

It is a clear case that even the umbrella organization of journalists is captured by political parties and their cadres, the ex-member said. 

“This should be a matter of concern for professional journalists and also international communities who are extending support to FNJ.”

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