The Election Commission has asked Setopati through an email to remove a news report published on Friday within 24 hours. We had published a news titled ‘Agni Kharel’s son Nishan in US Army, also continues to hold Nepali citizenship’ on Friday. The Election Commission on Saturday has asked for removal of the news report within 24 hours and sought explanation stating ‘There was character assassination of an individual who is candidate in the election and his family, and the news report has been published in a way that there is personal allegation’.
The letter issued by the Election Commission has yet to arrive in Setopati. We will decide whether to directly move the court to seek legal remedy or furnish explanation to the Election Commission once we receive the letter. We firmly believe that the Election Commission has instructed for removal of the news violating the limits and decorum of a constitutional commission on an issue it is not concerned with.
We have four major disagreements over the instruction by the Election Commission to remove the news and explanation it has sought.
First, the Election Commission has sought explanation on one hand while it has instructed to remove the news without waiting for that explanation on the other. This behavior of the Election Commission is ill-intentioned and unfortunate in itself.
The second is about its allegation that there was character assassination of an individual who is candidate in the election and his family, and the news report has been published in a way that there is personal allegation.
The news report published in Setopati mentions that Agni Kharel’s son Nishan Kharel serves in the US Army, and he still holds Nepali citizenship certificate and is included in the voter list. Both of those are facts. The Election Commission itself can check with its voter list. Our news report mentions that Agni Kharel himself has told Seopati that his son Nishan has been serving in the US Army for seven years.
We want to ask the Election Commission—how does this news report slander Agni Kharel who is candidate in the election, and his family? How is it an allegation?
The Election Commission instead has publicly slandered us by making such false allegations against Setopati. We challenge the Election Commission to prove this allegation, and request it to withdraw the same if it can’t.
We are clear that Nishan Kharel or any other Nepali reserves the rights to serve in the US or British or Indian army, or army or other security force of other countries, and it is a matter of individual choice for the person concerned.
Setopati stands for personal freedom of any individual. We don’t believe that moral questions can ever be asked of anyone on the basis of whether the person stays in Nepal or abroad, or serves in the Nepal Army or army of another country. People take decisions on the basis of their convenience and wish in different situations, and act accordingly. It is their individual and sovereign right if the decisions they take or their action do not harm others and do not violate the laws. We always respect those rights, and will always strive to protect those rights.
We also believe that the fact that a family member of a big leader or those who hold a major public position serves in a foreign army is a matter of interest for commoners, and hence a subject of news. We have, therefore, published the news of Nishan Kharel.
Those serving in the US Army should at least have permission for permanent residency in America. The person can easily acquire US citizenship after serving in the US Army. Nishan, who has been serving for seven years, should relinquish Nepali citizenship if he has acquired US citizenship. Not doing so would be against the laws of Nepal. We had asked Nishan’s father Agni whether Nishan has acquired US citizenship or not as he still holds Nepali citizenship. He could not say about Nishan’s US citizenship with certainty. We have also included Agni’s response in the news report. It is unfortunate that a constitutional body like the Election Commission has made allegations against a news story that we have reported complying with the decorum of journalism and completing due processes.
Third, this news is not related to the upcoming elections. It, therefore, does not attract the election code of conduct, nor can the Election Commission instruct for removal of the news citing the code of conduct. The Election Commission is not the authorized body to seek explanation about the news published by any media house or instruct for its removal.
Fourth, this is not the first time the Election Commission has sought clarification from Setopati in the name of election code of conduct. During the last local elections held in May, too, the Election Commission had sought clarification from us and instructed us to remove an election-related news. We had sent our clarification to the Election Commission refusing to remove the news.
That time the Election Commission had accused Setopati of violating the code of conduct by publishing election analyses based on conversations with voters of different local bodies. We were clear then and we are clear today as well that a voter has the right to privacy regarding who they want to vote for in an election. They need not reveal why they would or would not vote for somebody.
Also, voters also have the right to freedom of expression to publicly state why they would or would not vote for a candidate. Not only that, citizens also have the right to be politically organized, solicit votes for a political party and organize rallies.
Similarly, if any citizen tells a journalist without hesitation why she would or would not vote for somebody, what politician she likes or doesn’t like, whom she wants to help get elected or defeated, then a media house has the right to publish it. The Constitution itself has guaranteed that right and also defined its limits.
If it deems it necessary to ban the press from writing on something not prohibited by the Constitution and justifies that, then the legislature should formulate a law for it. The Election Commission cannot prepare a code of conduct that prohibits writing on issues not prohibited by the Constitution and the laws. The Election Commission’s code of conduct is not a law. We have already stated this in our earlier written clarification to the Election Commission.
Therefore, we urge the Election Commission to not discourage the press time and again, in the name of code of conduct, from reporting citizens’ views on political parties and leaders. We would also like to remind the Election Commission that such an act goes against the constitutional rights of citizens and the press.