Minister for Information and Communications Gokul Prasad Baskota personally summoned editors of all five state media publications and instructed them not to publish any critical news related to the rape and murder of Nirmala Pant or activist Dr Govinda KC’s agenda, journalists from several state-owned media told the Post.
The minister went to the extent of ordering state media editors to counter reports published by private media, and effectively discredit and mitigate their trenchant coverage of government’s inaction in both cases.
Baskota had expressed dissatisfaction over the high number of news reports dedicated to the rape and murder of the 13-year-old girl from Kanchanpur, as well as opinions and editorials supporting KC published by privately owned media.
“There’s always a kind of unseen self-censorship that comes from our top management, but the government shouldn’t be able to dictate what we should cover and how we should do it,” said one senior journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Two veteran journalists who work for different state-owned media, told the Post they have not received instructions from their editors on reducing the coverage of the two issues, but admitted a noticeable decline in the coverage recently.
Baskota had met with the editors earlier this week.
“The minister told us to produce counter-narratives, but he hasn’t instructed us how the government wants us to do that,” said the chief editor of one state-owned publication.
Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s administration has been widely criticized in recent weeks and months for its failure to investigate into, arrest, file charges and prosecute the rapists and killers of Nirmala.
The outrage over the ghastly crime set off nationwide protests, widespread criticism on social media, and ceaseless coverage by most privately owned newspapers, online media, television, and radio stations.
On November 21, the state-owned news agency, Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS), released a photo of Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa visiting Nirmala’s parents to support at their sit-in protest.
After RSS published the photo, Baskota called the news agency and ordered it to remove the picture from the wire service immediately. The agency deleted the photo from its archives within minutes of the order.
The following day, Baskota summoned the editors of RSS, Gorkhapatra, Rising Nepal, Radio Nepal and Nepal Television to his chamber at Singha Durbar, where he sought support from the state media on pushing the government’s narrative in the two cases that have put the Oli administration on the defence.
Two days later, RSS also removed a photo of Nirmala’s father, Yagya Raj Pant, being transported to Kathmandu for medical treatment, from its archives.
“Since the meeting last week, we have stopped publishing reports and photographs concerning Nirmala Pant and Dr Govinda KC’s recent announcement to launch another indefinite strike,” said a senior editor, who asked not to be named because he feared he would lose his job.
When the Post reached Baskota for a comment, the minister received the call and told the Post reporter to call on a different number. When the reporter contacted him on the number, he provided, it went unanswered despite repeated attempts to reach him for several hours.