Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
Facing the music

For over two months, FM radio has been bottled up within the confinements of entertainment. With the country's 41 radio stations broadcasting just entertainment, there seems to be no limit in how this trend has ridiculed the real essence of radio journalism. The country is in the midst of crisis and conflict but whenever we tune on to any FM station today all it offers is escapist entertainment not relevant information. As per the National Broadcasting Act introduced in 1993, the state gave the private sector permission and authority to launch FM stations and broadcast news. This was as per the constitution which effectively said that the electromagnetic spectrum was in the public domain. Post February First, the Ministry of Information and Communication issued a directive citing the state of emergency as the legal reason to stop news on FM. Those who defied the order would be subject to one year imprisonment and fined Rs 10,000, or both. This is unfair and discriminatory towards FM radio stations and the vast listening public. Especially since private television stations are still allowed to broadcast news. Such severe censorship against FM radio is not just counterproductive it goes against the spirit of the independent press mentioned in the royal proclamation- "Independent information is the medium for creating awareness of democracy. It plays a special role in preserving national integrity." So, why is the government acting in dissonance with the royal proclamation? It would be wise on the part of the government to lift the restriction on FMs and permit them to broadcast news. The government is reportedly planning to amend the National Broadcast Act and introduce any law permanently clipping the wings of free radio journalism. The information minister hasn't stopped peddling the untruth that no FM radio station in the world broadcasts news.

In the Netherlands, community FM radio stations broadcast news and also programs pertaining to political debates and such programs are allowed to get advertisements. In South Africa, community radio stations have earned popularity among the masses for its news and other socially oriented news programs. There are similar trends in Ecuador and Ghana where FM radio stations are popular among the local people because of its accessibility to news and current affairs. In the Philippines, people constantly tune their radio sets for updated and latest news aired through the grassroots FM broadcasters. In Canada, the government has arranged for FM radio stations to broadcast news and informative programs besides entertainment so citizens become aware of many important issues. Most of these countries envied Nepal's successes with community radio and emulated us. FM news had already become an indispensable part of the lives of Nepali citizens.

It may be understandable to impose restrictions on broadcast or printing of news during a state of emergency but the ruling should not be discriminatory. Why are only FM stations being unfairly singled out for control? Radio stations have contributed huge revenues to the government through licences and advertisements. Without exception they were broadcasting news in line with the rules stipulated in the license. Radio journalists were responsible and professional and had the well-being of the nation at heart. What the government has to realise is that in a country where the literacy rate is low, FM radio stations was informing and educating nearly 70 percent of the population. Radio journalism cannot fulfil its responsibility being restricted to music.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)