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Six months after soldiers armed with assault rifles occupied FM newsrooms, independent radio stations are preparing to resume news broadcasts as the ban expires on Friday.

The directive banning radio news was contained in a circular from the Ministry of Information and Communication (MOIC) published in the Gorkhapatra on 3 February. A followup notice the next day directed radio stations to limit themselves to broadcasting 'pure entertainment-based programs.not to air news, information, articles/writing, thoughts/ideas and expression'.

"Unless a fresh ban is imposed we will start news again," says Ghamaraj Luitel of the pressure group Save Independent Radio Campaign which was set up after the February royal takeover.

The public service Radio Sagarmatha 102.4 FM and the commercial Nepal FM 91.7, among others, have been defying the ban. Nepal FM airs its popular daily news program Rajdhani Khabar with social, economic and political content. Radio Sagarmatha begins its evening program Hinda Hindai with a 10-minute roundup of non-political news.

MOIC sent a letter to Nepal FM Wednesday asking why the station was violating the ban on news and why it should not be punished. The station has been given a week to respond.

"What radio listeners need is news and information," says Nepal FM's Managing Director Bishnu Hari Dhakal, "Providing only entertainment would be irresponsible at times like these." Nepal FM's Rajdhani Khabar resumed broadcast after it received instructions from the royal palace to broadcast King Gyanendras\' cv.

"We didn't think His Majesty's biodata should be the content of an entertainment program," says Dhakal, "so we decided to put it in a news format and then continued with the bulletins." Rajdhani Khabar, however has been leaving out sensitive news of Maoist activities, army operations and political protests.

Inside Nepal FM's tiny newsroom in Rabi Bhaban, producers are preparing to relay its half-hour news program Nepal Khabar to eight partner stations outside the Valley from Friday.

State-owned Radio Nepal replaced its signature tune last week with one from the heydays of the Panchayat and continues to cut the first 15 minutes of the BBC World Service in English that it relays on 103 FM. The BBC's Nepali service which was relayed by 12 FM stations all over Nepal remains suspended.

Independent radios won the right to produce and broadcast news in a landmark case in July 2001 which redefined freedom of press to also include radio. Even so, Minister Tanka Dhakal insists Nepali stations don't have the right to broadcast news and that news is not allowed on FM anywhere in the world. Army sources have accused FM stations of needlessly causing panic among the people with news of blockades and of helping the Maoists. However, private television stations were never banned from broadcasting news.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)