19-25 May 2017 #859

Revolution through devolution

Bharat Dutta Koirala
It has been 20 years since we won our fight to get the government to allow the public to have its own community radio station in Nepal. When we finally got the license in May 1997 after four years of struggle, it was a landmark not just for Nepal but the whole of South Asia.

We had to work hard to try to convince politicians, the bureaucracy and even the Army that devolving radio to communities would not bring anarchy, but actually help strengthen grassroots democracy and development. Our slogan was ‘Communication for Development’, and that is what Nepal’s radio revolution has achieved, given communities a voice and forced local government to be accountable and responsible.

As South Asia’s first independent FM station, Radio Sagarmatha has been a success story, and role model for public service broadcasting. It has enabled the common people access to information and strengthened democracy. Scenes like porters tuning in to radio while trudging up mountains or women listening to radio while cutting grass for cattle became common after FM stations spread in Nepal.

The other model station was the second independent FM to get a license, Radio Madanpokhara. While Radio Sagarmatha is a community radio in the capital where there are at least 30 other commercial FMs, Radio Madanpokhara is in a rural setting in Palpa and is owned and operated by the local community. It has had a direct impact on lifting rural living standards, encouraging entrepreneurship, helping farmers market produce and spreading the message of development.

This shows that the biggest impact of community radio is on socio-economic development, it allows people to share ideas with each other, and use that information to help others. It demystifies development jargon to empower women, remove caste discrimination and encourage tolerance of diversity.

However, rulers in many South Asian countries have not understood this. Even in countries with a long tradition of democracy and free press, radio is in the tight grip of government. Many of these licensing regulations are obsolete in the age of the Internet with live streaming and pod-casting, yet the rulers think they can exert control by keeping radio shackled.

Many broadcasters from across South Asia have tried to emulate Radio Sagarmatha and Nepal’s success, but their governments haven’t allowed them. Nepal’s self-supporting radio stations are an important tool for social and economic development. And it all started this week 20 years ago with Radio Sagarmatha.

Bharat Koirala was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2002 for his role in promoting the community radio movement in Nepal.

Read also:

Kiran, the radio guy

Nepali Radio, Nepali Awaz, Om Astha Rai

Frequently modulated, Om Astha Rai

Working at 102.4, Sangita Marhatta

The Radio Wave

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