It's official and legal. The provisions of the Nepali constitution do, in fact, allow private radio stations to disseminate news from independent sources. In January 2001, the Ministry of Information and Communication issued a notice to all private radio stations saying that it was illegal for them to broadcast independent news and current affairs. The notice claimed that the stations had been circumventing this clause of the FM license by reading a selection of daily papers without checking the facts.
The full text of a July 2001 Supreme Court decision, released last month, rules that the government has no right to restrict news and information flow on independent radio stations, and media activists say this could change the way the private television stations that have been issued licenses this month will handle news when they come on air.
A three-member team of Supreme Court judges came to the decision while looking into a lawsuit filed by lawyer Madhav Kumar Basnet challenging the legality of the January 2001 directive from the Ministry of Information and Communication. The government notice claimed that FM radio stations were "undermining democracy" through their broadcasts, and directed them to seek news only from "official" sources and retransmit only materials from the state-run broadcaster. The directive also maintained that the government would have the final say over whether or not certain material could go on air.
The decision says that the constitutional guarantees to the press are also applicable to other forms of media, radio in particular, although the government continues to interpret them as being applicable only to the print media. The same decision also questions an established government practice of appointing an official as director of the board of any private radio station, saying this was a form of censorship, as the government appointee could single-handedly overturn or alter any decision.
"It is an historic decision that could influence the operation of television and other forms of media," says ecstatic media activist Raghu Mainali. "It will influence how we deal with journalistic freedoms, irrespective of the medium," adds Mainali, coordinator, Community Radio Support Centre at the Nepal Forum of
Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ).
To date, the government has licensed 25 FM stations (including FM 100), of which about 20 broadcast currently. Among them six are non-profit stations, including Radio Sagarmatha and Metro FM in Kathmandu.