Nepali Times
Let a thousand radios bloom

Of all the ridiculous decisions that have been taken lately, the one that gets the prize for sheer idiocy is the continued ban on news by FM stations.

It was news on FM that chronicled the barbarity of the Maoists, their intimidation and blockades. Now, the only news on FM is positive news about the Maoists: through their own clandestine transmitters.

But what makes that move even more foolish are the repeated assertions by members of the cabinet that no FM station in the world is allowed to broadcast news. But this falsehood has been repeated so often that the regime now seems to believe its own lies.

Take it from us: news is broadcast over FM stations in most countries in the world. Thailand and the Philippines have vibrant community radio networks, all of Latin America listens to FM news, South Africa's rural radio broadcasts studio discussions that have been agents of social change.

True, our giant neighbours don't allow it. China for obvious reasons and India because despite being the world's largest democracy and having a rambunctious press, successive governments there have realised the power of radio. Lately our ministers (who otherwise never tire of India-bashing) have started saying that since India doesn't allow news on FM, we shouldn't either. So, if the Indians eat gobar we should too?

Nepal's community radio stations have now courageously started defying the government's order with creative forms of protest like reading news through loud speakers in town squares. This week three Kathmandu FM stations simultaneously broadcast a studio discussion conducted by noted radio host, Kiran Pokhrel of Aja ka Kura, on why the ban on news is unconstitutional.

As far as freedom of press is concerned, we have one of the most liberal constitutions in the world. And a Supreme Court ruling in 2001 has set a precedence by declaring the electromagnetic spectrum public property, giving radio the same rights to free expression reserved for print media. The present ban on news is also anti-constitutional because the emergency is over and it is being enforced on the basis of a simple letter from the ministry.

There are other reasons why the ban is absurd. The print media is allowed to get away with extremely critical content. Private tv stations are broadcasting news unfettered, Indian news channels are back on cable. And despite the blocking of two popular websites last week, the Internet is totally free.

Why is it that the government is scared of simple old-fashioned radio? The only reason is its accessibility and reach. Our rulers are scared community radio stations will empower the people who will then demand their rights.

And if that is true, it only exposes this regime's extreme sense of insecurity.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)