A survey of urban and rural residents of the Kathmandu Valley has shown that people have come to depend overwhelmingly on FM radio for news and dismiss the government's claim that radio news helps 'terrorists'.
The survey of radio listenership indicated that the broadcast of news, discussions and current affairs programs on FM has transformed the way Nepalis get news and this could have far-reaching consequences for newspapers and television.
Although the government's ban on news on FM after the Ferburary First royal takeover was widely criticised, this is the first time a public opinion poll has shown just how unpopular it was. Half the respondents said they either stopped listening to radio or reduced the time they spent listening after FM stations stopped broadcasting news.
The survey results indicate that a majority of citizens don't just see the ban on FM news as something affecting journalists but also as a restriction on their right to information. The findings also show that the public take a dim view of the promulgation of the media control ordinance by the king on 7 October.
The survey was carried out in August for the Social Science Baha among a purposeful sampling of 300 respondents segregated by gender, profession and among residents of inner-city, suburban and rural areas of the Valley.
Although residents of Kathmandu Valley turned to television slightly more frequently than FM stations, more than half stated that FM was their preferred source of news. The proportion relying on FM for news was lower in the core urban areas where newspapers still predominate. A slightly higher proportion of women watched news on tv while more men listened to the news on FM. While television seemed to be an evening medium, listening to news on FM was a morning ritual for many.
A majority of those surveyed listened to entertainment programs on FM but most said the program they listened to most avidly was news although a majority in the below-30 age bracket said they listened to entertainment with more interest. Reasons for preferring news on FM was: clarity, conciseness, frequency of broadcasts. A third of the respondents said they still listen to Radio Nepal (a majority of them living in rural and suburban areas) and the reason was habit and also to find out the government's perspective.
The most popular FM station in the Valley was Kantipur, followed by HITS FM, HBC, KATH and Sagarmatha. This order could change for news since some of those stations don't broadcast bulletins.
Asked about the ban on news after 1 February, 31 percent of people above 45 said they stopped listening to FM stations after it went into effect. Half those below 45 said they listened to radio less. Forty-two percent of those younger than 30 said the ban on news made no difference to their listening habits.
The most revealing finding was that an overwhelming 85 percent of those polled said the news ban curtailed the people's right to information, and only five percent supported the government's claim that news on FM helped 'terrorist activities'. Even more surprisingly, nearly 80 percent of respondents said they supported the campaign by journalists to pressure the government to lift the ban on FM.
There are 56 FM stations all over Nepal 16 of them are operating in the Kathmandu Valley. Although government officials state incorrectly that no country in the world allows news on FM, its own Radio Nepal broadcasts news on 100FM and relays the BBC World Service in English on 103FM.
Even the democratically-elected government under Minister of Information and Communication Jaya Prakash Gupta had in 2001 tried to impose a ban on independent news on FM, but it was overturned in a landmark Supreme Court decision that allowed news and current affairs. The Supreme Court stepped in again on 11 August with an interim order to lift the ban on radio news after the royal takeover.
The media control ordinance signed by the king on the night of 7 October once again makes it illegal for FM stations to broadcast news, and defines information as content about weather, sports, traffic, environment and health. This has created an uproar in the media community and the FNJ has said it will once more take the matter up at the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, all news-oriented FM stations defied the ordinance right through Dasain and said they would continue to do so despite the stiff fines and jail terms.
FM Radio as a Source for News:
Is This a Constructed Imagination or Is It Really Popular?
Survey conducted for Social Science Baha with Premdarshan Sapkota, Paribesh Pradhan, Kabita Pokhrel, Indu Adhikary, Prava Viswakarma, Rajan Karmacharya