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The Constitution of Nepal guarantees freedom of expression and the right to communication, which protects against media censorship. Fake or false news is mainly dealt with through the Criminal (Code) Act, 2074, which prohibits the spread of false rumors. In the past journalists have also been arrested for posting certain news items on social media under section 47 (“Publication of illegal materials in electronic form”) of the Electronic Transactions Act, 2063. On March 21, 2020, Nepal Police headquarters urged the public not to spread fake news concerning COVID-19 on social media and warned that violators would face punishment under the Criminal Code. In late March 2020, the Central Cyber Bureau of the Nepal Police arrested a 20-year-old individual for circulating an audio clip on Facebook about people testing positive for COVID-19 at a private hospital.
On March 23, 2020, the Press Council Nepal issued News Transmission Directive 2076 for journalists and media regarding the responsibilities, precautions, and privacy obligations regarding patients when publishing news content concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
I. Free Expression
The Constitution of Nepal guarantees freedom of expression under article 17(2)(a), subject to the following restrictions:
(1) Nothing in sub-clause (a) shall be deemed to prevent the making of an Act to impose reasonable restrictions on any act which may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality and independence of Nepal or the harmonious relations between the Federal Units or the people of various castes, tribes, religions or communities or incite castebased discrimination or untouchability or on any act of disrespect of labour, defamation, contempt of court, incitement to an offence or on any act which may be contrary to public decency or morality.
Article 19 protects the “right to communication” and states that “[n]o publication and broadcasting or dissemination or printing of any news item, editorial, feature article or other reading, audio and audio-visual material through any means whatsoever including electronic publication, broadcasting and printing shall be censored.” This right is subject to similar restrictions.
In Nepal fake or false news is mainly dealt with through the National Penal (Code) Act, 2017, which prohibits the spread of false rumors:
70. Not to spread rumor: (1) No person shall, with intent to breach public tranquility, commit rioting or undermine or jeopardize the sovereignty, geographical or territorial integrity of Nepal or harmonious relation between different races, castes or communities, spread or propagate rumors or hold a procession with slogans, in a manner to provoke any one.
(2) Any person who commits, or causes to be committed, the offence referred to in sub-section (1) shall be liable to a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding ten thousand rupees or both the sentences.
In the past journalists have been arrested for posting certain news items on social media under section 47 of the Electronic Transactions Act, 2063:
47. Publication of illegal materials in electronic form: (1) If any person publishes or displays any material in the electronic media including computer, internet which are prohibited to publish or display by the prevailing law or which may be contrary to the public morality or decent behavior or any types of materials which may spread hate or jealousy against anyone or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities shall be liable to the punishment with the fine not exceeding One Hundred Thousand Rupees or with the imprisonment not exceeding five years or with both.
(2) If any person commit an offence referred to in Sub-section (1) time to time he/she shall be liable to the punishment for each time with one and one half percent of the punishment of the previous punishment.
Notably, the government of Nepal has introduced the Information Technology Bill, 2075 in Parliament to replace the Electronic Transactions Act, 2063. The Bill includes provisions that would require the registration of social media networks, provide powers to remove certain content on social media, and create new crimes involving electronic and social media activities.
II. Government’s Response to COVID-19 and Fake News
On March 21, 2020, Nepal Police headquarters urged the public “not to spread fake news on social media on COVID-19” and “that anyone who is involved in such activities will face stringent action as per the existing law.” On its Facebook page, Nepal Police headquarters made reference to the false rumors provision in the Criminal (Code) Act, 2074 and “informed that culprits shall be sent to prison for a year or fined Rs 10,000 [about US$85] or both. Additional punishment will also be given if such fake messages are spread via electronic medium.”
On March 23, 2020, the Press Council Nepal, a statutory body set up by the government to “promote the standards of a free press,” issued News Transmission Directive 2076, “for Journalists and media regarding the precaution and responsibility of publishing news content regarding the outbreak of Nobel [sic] Corona Virus” and maintaining “secrecy while publishing or broadcasting news about Corona suspects or infected.” The Directive, issued pursuant to article 7(b) of the Press Council Act, 2048, calls on journalists and the media to assume the following responsibilities when disseminating news about the COVID-19 pandemic:
(1) Dissemination of factual news verified by the authentic sources: (1) Journalists and media should disseminate the news about corona virus outbreak ensuring that they are based on facts and verified by the authentic source or subject specialists. (2) The news, article, notice and information that the journalist or media disseminate through social media must be decent, factual and authentic. (3) While re-publishing the news, information or article/contents posted by other social media users through sharing, liking and re-tweeting, the journalist or media should disseminate it considering the authenticity that equals their own publication.
(2) Pay attention to the individual secrecy: Journalist and media should pay attention to the individual secrecy of the suspicious or suspected of the infection or infected victims. The identity of the person who is suspected to have coronavirus should be concealed. Moreover, no such contents should be produced, published, broadcasted and distributed that can have adverse effects upon the infected person. Without the consent of the infected and permission from the concerned authority, the identity of the confirmed case also should not be disclosed.
(3) Should not blame or accuse: Journalist and media, while disseminating news content about corona outbreak, should not connect it with any country, region or community and blame them for the spread of the virus. Likewise, news should not be disseminated in such way that it blames or personally accuse the infected person. Such news content capable of creating discrimination or hatred based on any caste, sex, religion, area, language, political inclination, race or physical, mental status should not be produced, published, broadcasted or distributed.
(4) Should not give space for false, exaggerated and unauthorized information or rumors that spread fear, panic and sensation: While disseminating the news content about corona virus outbreak, the journalist and media should not give space for the unauthorized, false and exaggerated information and rumors that are not verified by the concerned authority of Nepal Government. Sensibility and alertness should always be adopted so that the readers, listeners and viewers are not disappointed or excited.
(5) Should not mention the name of a person not related to the incident: (1) Journalist and media should not produce, distribute or publish-broadcast any such news, photo or visuals that discloses the name, address or identity of the relative or someone close to the person having corona virus infection.
(6) Should not publish or broadcast the scene or photo: Journalist and media should not disseminate the scene and photos of the person whose life has been claimed by the infection.
(7) Readiness to Rectify Errors: Upon receiving any fault or mistake on the news content regarding the corona outbreak that are disseminated, the journalist and media should rectify them as soon as possible, and inform publicly about it from the same media. Moreover, Press Council’s directions for rectifying the errors should be followed immediately.
(8) Press Council will monitor and take action: Press Council Nepal can monitor whether the journalists and media have followed this directive and take necessary action in accordance with Press Council Act, 2048 and Journalist Code of Conduct, 2073 (Amendment- 2076).
In late March 2020, the Central Cyber Bureau of the Nepal Police arrested a 20-year-old individual for circulating an audio clip on Facebook about six people testing positive for COVID-19 at a private hospital in Kathmandu; the clip “had been circulated widely through various social media platforms and instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber.”
Prepared by Tariq Ahmad
Foreign Law Specialist
 Id. art. 17, proviso cl. (1).
 Id. art. 19(1).
 Press Council Nepal, supra note 10.
Last Updated: 12/30/2020