Two newspapers in Nepal came under fire yesterday for their reports saying the royal government was planning new limits on the media on top of restrictions already imposed when King Gyanendra seized control of the country in February.
The Press Council, a nominally independent panel that monitors the media but which is widely considered to favor the king's administration, said the reports in the Kantipur and Kathmandu Post newspapers were groundless and based on speculation.
The council demanded that the two newspapers clarify why they published the reports, giving them seven days to respond. The newspapers said they stood by their story.
"We will protest and fight the allegations. We stand by our story and believe it was an attempt by the government to control the media," Kantipur news editor Gunaraj Luitel said.
Nepalese Attorney General Pawan Ojha has acknowledged that the government is preparing new laws to regulate the media, but officials have declined to give details of the legislation.
The newspaper reports said that the legislation would place further restrictions on the media, including longer prison terms and 10-fold increases in fines imposed for defamation.
Journalists in Nepal have been under tight restrictions since Gyanendra, a former constitutional monarch, sacked the previous government and took over absolute power on Feb. 1.
The new royal government banned criticism of the king, his government and the security forces, and barred any independent reporting on Nepal's communist rebels, who have taken over much of the countryside since they launched their fight in 1996.
Private radio stations have also been prohibited from broadcasting, resulting in hundreds of lost jobs.
Though emergency rule was lifted last month by the king, censorship of the media has remained in place.
Dozens of journalists have been arrested in the past three months, and about 10 remain in detention for writing articles critical of the royal government.
The Federation of Nepalese Journalists, the umbrella group for media rights in Nepal, has already announced plans to organize street protests to pressure Nepal's royal government to lift restrictions.