Nepali Times
His master’s voice


VOICE OF THE REVOLUTION: Maoist cadre, Khil Bahadur Bhandari, has been running the talk show Bichar Manthan on NTV since the Maoists took over the Ministry of Information.

It's been three months since Information Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara resigned from government along with his Maoists colleagues. But even without him, state-owned Nepal Television and Radio Nepal have become mouthpieces of the Maoists.

Now, as Mahara prepares to return to his old office in Singha Darbar, many in his ministry fear the use of state media for pro-Maoist propaganda in elections could be even more blatant.

Since Mahara took over, Radio Nepal and Nepal Television have begun to regularly use loaded words like "the defeated army of the old regime" to describe the Nepal Army, "Indian expansionists and American imperialists" when alluding to New Delhi and Washington's policies towards Nepal and broadcast revolutionary music videos extolling the sacrifices of 'martyrs'.

Jargon that used to be confined to Maoist political literature and speeches of leaders have found their way to news and current affairs programs and studio debates like Radio Nepal's Ghatana ra Bichar and Samaya Prabaha, and on NTV on Asta ka Swor Haru and Bichar Manthan.

"This shouldn't be happening, it's unfortunate," says a Radio Nepal employee, who requested anonymity. But others are not shy to speak out. Says Radio Nepal journalist Pramod Dahal: "They run some of the programs like they do in their own FM stations."

To be sure, there is nothing new about political interference in state media. During the Panchayat years, criticism of the regime was strictly out of bounds. But even after 1990, successive elected governments used Radio Nepal and NTV shamelessly for partisan views and as recruitment centres for cadres. Ministers regularly called the newsroom to complain about being given less prominence. State media staff admit that at least Mahara never did that during his tenure.

But the Maoists have systematically tried to suppress negative news about their party by vetting studio guests and even warning comedian Dipak Raj Giri of the popular satire show Tito Satya recently not to poke too much fun at Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. At NTV, talk show hosts have to get the guest name list cleared beforehand from their Maoist bosses. Raju Thapa of the program Aba Ke Hunchha says he tried for three weeks to get RPP leader Surya Bahadur Thapa on the show, but couldn't get permission.

The Maoist-installed chairman of NTV, Rishiraj Baral makes no apologies. "We don't accept the old regime, there is no reason why our programs should look at their activities. We are oriented towards the new regime."

This could be politically counter-productive for the Maoists at election time. It's not just the editorial departments that are worried, NTV's marketing managers say the station's ratings have dropped since news started carrying a pro-Maoist slant.
Nepal's highest rated tv program used to be the evening news on NTV, now it is Kantipur TV. This has translated into falling revenues from commercials in the evening news slot at NTV.

Former Maoist journalist Mumaram Khanal is critical of the way the Maoists have handled state media. "The comrades said they wanted to destroy the old and bring in the new, but they are treating the state media exactly the way the old regime did."

Journalists in Radio Nepal and NTV are speaking out openly against Maoist controls. NTV's news coordinator Rajendra Deb Acharya says media can be considered democratic only if they are free, objective and professional. "The state must stop using us as a propaganda arm," he adds.

Across the street at Radio Nepal, Sushil Koirala says state ownership of media must not be taken to mean state control, otherwise, every new government will keep on misusing the media.

Even in Gorkhapatra and The Rising Nepal, the daily newspapers that are also under state control, priority is given to Maoist-oriented news.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)