Cable operators ban Indian news channels in Nepal

Hours after Yubaraj Khatiwada, the government spokesperson, announced that the government would be seeking legal and political remedies against some Indian media for their “baseless” and “insulting” allegations against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, a number of Indian news channels went off the air on Thursday evening

Jul 10, 2020

Hours after Yubaraj Khatiwada, the government spokesperson, announced that the government would be seeking legal and political remedies against some Indian media for their “baseless” and “insulting” allegations against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, a number of Indian news channels went off the air on Thursday evening.

“The government holds full rights to seek remedies against those Indian media responsible for damaging the image of our country, and the nationality, sovereignty and dignity of the Nepali people,” Khatiwada said during a weekly presser on Thursday. “We have also urged them to stop broadcasting and publishing such news.”

Zee News, an Indian news channel, had aired a ‘news report’ about Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, making sensational claims about the prime minister’s relationship with Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi. The ‘report’ presents no real evidence but goes on to make baseless allegations for over 15 minutes.

There has been a vocal outcry against the video in the public sphere, with politicians, civil society and social media condemning the allegations and accusing the channel of engaging in baseless propaganda and trafficking in misogyny. Ruling party leaders, Oli’s advisers, and the Federation of Nepali Journalists have all expressed concern.

Government officials said that the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi has taken note of the ‘report’ and expressed serious reservations over some objectionable content published in Indian print and electronic media. The Nepali Embassy in New Delhi took up the matter with India's Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday, said Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali.

“[Our] Serious attention has been drawn to some objectionable media content published and aired in Indian media and our embassy in New Delhi has taken up the matter with India's foreign ministry,” Gyawali told the Post.

Nepali Ambassador to India Nilamber Acharya talked to South Block officials over phone to say that such media reports will harm ages-old ties between Nepal and India.
“Some Indian media are hell-bent on damaging Nepal-India ties,” Acharya told the Post over the phone from New Delhi. “These reports are deplorable and objectionable.”

A senior government official told the Post that the government is employing diplomatic channels to reach out to the Indian government but is also considering asking cable operators to shut down the broadcasting of Indian news channels for a certain period of time.

“Prime Minister Oli himself has taken the matter into notice,” said Surya Thapa, Oli’s press adviser. “But I think cable operators have shut down some Indian news channels out of their responsibility to the country.”

The government has not made any official request to the cable operators, according to Thapa.

The Nepal Cable TV Association confirmed that the decision to block some Indian news channels was taken on its own.

“We decided to halt the broadcast of Indian news channels for a certain period of time to show our patriotism,” said Dinesh Subedi, president of the association and also chair of Max Digital, a cable TV service provider. “The decision was made independently by cable operators and was not due to what the government said.”

The government, however, is legally equipped to ban any television channels that it deems objectionable.
Article 9 of the National Broadcasting Rules 1995 allows the government to prohibit the broadcast of any matter that undermines the security, peace and order of Nepal; jeopardises the decency, morality of the general public and social harmony; undermines the sovereignty and integrity of Nepal; spread[s] social deformity; and undermines the reputation, honour or prestige of a person, by pointing out the name of that person.

The rules further allow the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to prohibit broadcast of “such other materials… as prescribed by the ministry from time to time.”

Relations between India and Nepal are at an all-time low, after Nepal on May 20 released a map depicting Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani as parts of the Nepali territory.

The Narendra Modi government has been displeased and the Indian media has followed suit, criticising the Oli government in Nepal and alluding to Chinese instigation.

On Thursday, the same news channel interviewed Upendra Yadav, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, where he appeared to corroborate Wednesday’s salacious report.

But Yadav told the Post that his words had been twisted and edited.

“They took my interview for half an hour but only aired seven minutes of a very selective version,” said Yadav. “I never mentioned a honey trap. Without a probe, how can I talk about the involvement of any neighbour?”
Yadav’s interview comes at a time when Chinese Ambassador Hou has been holding a series of meetings with ruling party leaders, including Prime Minister Oli.

The ambassador, over the past week, has also met with President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

Hou held talks with Nepal Communist Party (NCP) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Thursday, days after she met other senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal.

Hou’s marathon meetings are taking place at a time when the Nepal Communist Party is facing a crisis due to a factional feud, as a rival faction is demanding Oli’s resignation, which could lead to a party split.

The Indian media, however, has tried to portray the Chinese ambassador’s meetings as part of a grand scheme orchestrated by Beijing.

Politicians warn that such news reports could turn out to benefit the embattled Oli who is facing a call for resignation from within his own party. Such blatant attacks could help Oli shore up his position domestically, said one Standing Committee member of the Nepal Communist Party.

“Such nefarious reports will only serve to prove Oli’s accusation that New Delhi is attempting to unseat him,” he told the Post. “At a time when internal rifts are widening, he will only gain more public support.”
Despite the rift in the party, members of the opposing factions have stood behind Oli in this instance.

“The baseless media report against our prime minister in the Indian media has crossed the limit,” ruling party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said on social media. “It’s enough, let’s stop this, it is disgusting. We are united in protecting our national sovereignty and territorial integrity, we will not let foreigners create divisions among us to fulfil their own interests.”

The Indian media has, since the election of the Hindu-nationalist Narendra Modi, acquired the unflattering sobriquet of the “Godi media”, a term coined by journalist Ravish Kumar to refer to a large section of the Indian media’s unquestioning, unwavering support of their prime minister.

Kumar told the Post that it was best not to patronise the ‘Godi media’.

“I am not aware about the content of the Indian media on Nepal in recent days but I can assume that it is not a new phenomenon for these pro-establishment media to carry baseless news reports,” said Kumar, a Magsaysay award winner for his journalism. “That is why I have stopped reading and watching these media.

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