Garlanded as a hero, Sachin Roka Magar goes to places where most journalists hesitate to tread. The difference is, Magar is a Maoist journalist, the coordinator of the 'Radio People's Republic'. Nearly a dozen Maobadi radio reporters work under Magar, moving frequently to avoid security forces and carrying their generator and radio station in a doko. When they arrive at their new location-usually high in the hills so the news can carry far-the station is installed in a tent, from where all their work is done: preparing reports, recording and post-production.
They use a generator when electricity is not available and are protected by about 30 militants. The Maoist radio program is aired on 95.1 mhz for half an hour in the morning and 45 minutes in the evening and broadcast in Nepali, Magar and English. But the broadcast location is kept secret, even from other comrades. "We never bring any worker for fear of location discovery. Even politburo leaders do not know about our radio work," says Sachin.
Two years ago an international conference on community radio was held at Hotel Yak & Yeti. No one knew Maoist journalists also attended the training. There they learned about portable suitcase radios that can be carried by hand. According to sources, the Maoists also established contact with an American radio production company, one of whose representatives was in Nepal for the conference. They also took the representative to one of their areas where six Maoist journalists were given technical training. Roka Magar, from Pokhara, was one of them.
Nearly two years ago Maoists started broadcasting north of Rukum. They claim to now have five stations each within a broadcasting range of 100 km. Besides the Rapti-Dhaulagiri region, broadcasts have been launched in Seti-Mahakali, Bheri-Karnali, Sagarmatha-Janakpur and the Kathmandu Valley. But broadcasts from Kabhre, Nuwakot and Sindupalchok have been jammed by security forces.
The question is: are they journalists or terrorists? Since 2001 the Maoists have stressed that the media is another of their weapons and that they planned to train a correspondent in each company and battalion. Most trainees are from the Maoist students union. Their main training tool is the book People's Revolutionary Journalism, written by Om Sharma and Manrisi Dhital.
Some two-dozen Maoist war correspondents have so far been killed in encounters with security forces. But journalists from the Federation of Nepali Journalists do not consider them reporters and while the Maoists admit that they are not career journalists they are journalists with a mission.