Sunday, July 31, 2011

Founding Mother?

This past week I was shepherding a media law expert from the U.S. to a series of speaking engagements around Kathmandu. I don't normally do programs, but because this was "media-related" and I was the one who had proposed the program, I slipped away from my normal press duties for a few days to accompany him to his events.

It was a very satisfying program, mostly because of how well-received it was. When I first came to Nepal and starting meeting press contacts, one thing became evident - there is a hunger for progressive laws that protect and support a free press. Nepal is (and has been for a couple of years) drafting a new constitution. It is still a new democracy (or, rather, on the path toward becoming a democracy) and just like the new United States of America 200+ years ago, the people of Nepal must decide what values they will enshrine in their new constitution.

So when the opportunity to bring over a speaker arose, I suggested we find someone who could describe how freedom of the press and speech has evolved in America and explain some of the important issues and consequences that have resulted. We scheduled presentations to the Nepal Bar Association, journalism graduate students, and working journalists. We also arranged for discussions with broadcasting executives, government officials, and journalism organizations.

Interestingly, while the vast majority of the people the speaker presented to clearly wanted press freedom and independence from the government, at every interaction there was inevitably a question about how "objectionable" or "irresponsible" content is regulated or punished. I could see that some people had a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that free speech means that people are allowed to speak their minds, even if their minds are full of garbage. We tried to explain that for Americans, tolerating some garbage in the "marketplace of ideas" is better than some government entity deciding for us what can or cannot be expressed. And it was even more troubling for some to realize that "free speech" puts the responsibility of judging what is good information and what is bad information on the consumer of that information - the king no longer decides what is suitable for the public, YOU have to judge for yourself the validity of the information you consume.

I heard wonderful feedback after each event, especially from journalism professors and media lawyers. I would like to think this program energized the champions of a free press in Nepal and will at least spark interesting debate among those who will influence how freedom of expression is ultimately defined in the new constitution.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trisuli Adventure

Last month before I left for R&R, I went river rafting and camping on the Trisuli River. It was a great trip, pleasant weather, good rapids, and nice scenery. It's always nice to get out of the Kathmandu Valley.