Nepali Times
Women on air

When Durga Adhikari of Radio Taranga FM in Pokhara was promoted to station manager six months ago, her responsibilities increased dramatically. From 5AM to 7PM every day, she is busy juggling program editing, broadcasting and staff management duties. "I have to be ready anytime, 24 hours a day," says the willowy 21-year-old.

The demanding workload might seem daunting but Durga feels that being in a leadership position is the most satisfying moment of her career in journalism.She now heads a team of 17 staff, more than half of them women. Durga's achievement is even more remarkable considering how few female journalists there are and it's even rarer to find them in decision-making positions. A management graduate, she took a 180 degree switch to pursue her passion in journalism five years ago. "It was a challenge in the beginning and I had to learn everything from scratch," Durga says.

She feels women reporters have an edge over male colleagues because of their commitment and meticulousness. They are also less interested in politics and more focused on gender rights and child welfare. Durga's family was initially not supportive of her career choice as they felt there were no fixed hours in her job and salary was low. But they were won over when she made her mark as a station chief.

Durga currently hosts a weekend program Sunaulo Bhabishya, which airs stories about positive change and activism initiated by ordinary people. In addition, she hosts Hamro Nepal, Ramro Nepal, a weekly evening talkshow discussing social issues like the new constitution writing.

"These days the media is considered as one of the most powerful platforms in the world, and it is the same for Nepal, which is undergoing a watershed period of political transition," says Durga, "I hope to be able to continue spreading awareness and disseminating information about society to improve the status of women and children."

Kong Yen Lin in Pokhara

Women become radio active

Across Nepal the proportion of women journalists joining radio stations is growing, and the female voice is no longer a rarity. The other trend is for journalists to get together and launch radio stations staffed entirely by women.

Radio Mukti in Butwal, launched by committed women journalists was so bold in its coverage that it was recently attacked by local Maoists who vandalised the station.

Here in Biratnagar, Radio Purbanchal is another all-female station which is trying to address the pressing problems of gender discrimination in the eastern Tarai. At Purbanchal, the only man is the security guard. Station manager Kamala Kadel (second from right) is a 55-year-old mother who used to be a social worker before starting the radio to empower women through grassroots communications.

The station's reach has grown in the past two years, reaching 75 per cent of households in Sunsari and Morang with close to one million regular listeners. There are around 40 community level organisations affiliated to the station and 2,000 households contributed funds and start-up capital. The station employs 18 journalists and studio technicians, all 20-30 year olds from disadvantaged communities.

Some are students like Lalima Ragbanshi who divides her time between her studies and working as a radio technician. "I'm excited to be in this environment where there's so much room for growth," says the 21-year-old.
Others are housewives like Uma Thapa who finds satisfaction and freedom working beyond the domestic domain and Gita Biswas, the co-host of the news and agricultural program Kakram Hama Samacht (Our Society) whose husband has now taken over the housework.

Daily news bulletins are aired in four languages: Nepali, Tharu, Urab and Santhali. "Most radio stations broadcast news in Nepali and this is problematic for other ethnic communities who don't understand the language,"
says Urab news presenter Mahamaya Urab.

Other programs include children's education, labour and employment forums, with the most popular, The Voice of Labour, reaching out to 400 businesses in the district.

"What keeps us going is our desire to spread greater awareness about the rights and situation of Tarai women, who are restrained by social deprivation in education, economic and health care aspects," says radio journalist Durga Sapkota, "community radio can be a powerful agent of change."

Asked about how the murder of radio journalist Uma Singh in Janakpur affected women reporters, Kamala says it highlights the critical working conditions that women journalists face.

She added: "We're saddened but unbeaten. There's nothing to fear if we're united."

Kong Yen Lin in Biratnagar

See also: 'Gaining Ground', #373

Spreading network

Most FM radio stations in Nepal are now linked to satellite networks that connect them to sister radios in Kathmandu and around the country. The largest among them is Communication Corner's Ujyalo Network which celebrated its 11th anniversary on Wednesday. Some 75 Ujyalo affiliates exchange up to two hours of programming each day among themselves via satellite. Their collective signal now covers nearly 80 per cent of Nepal's land area and is also available on streaming audio online.

With programs like Hamro Nepal Ramro Nepal and other syndicated interactive content, Ujyalo and other networks have become the real voice of Nepal: giving citizens a say and developing a sense of nationhood.

"I think what we have managed to show is that for press freedom to be really effective in defending democracy, we need to give a voice to the voiceless and hear out people who would otherwise not be heard," says Gopal Guragain of Communication Corner.

However, not all is rosy. Nepal's FM radios are facing the twin problems of journalist security and station survival. Radio reporters have been the most vulnerable to attacks by militant groups, gangsters, criminals and state forces. In the past three weeks alone, FM radios in Khotang, Tanahu and Parbat have been physically attacked.

"Journalists are having to self-censor because to write about certain issues or to dig deep is to invite threats and even attacks," says Guragain.

Radio stations are also struggling to survive because of falling revenues from an advertising slump caused by political instability and crippling power cuts. Many are having difficulty even paying staff.

Community radio organisations have been lobbying the government to treat them like a public service and reduce the royalty, taxes and renewal fees. They say that in the absence of clear policy on FM radio the government is granting licences to political groups and the FM spectrum is getting crowded in many regions.

Kunda Dixit

See also: '10 years on air', # 339

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)