Thursday, November 09, 2006

-Pratyoush Onta:

The residents of Kathmandu have gotten so used to a range of FM radio broadcasts
that they tend to forget that as late as October 1995, Radio Nepal was the only radio
station that broadcast programs from within Nepal. On 16 November of that year,
Radio Nepal started FM Kathmandu (100 MHz) with its own programs. After being on air for
some months, FM Kathmandu’s program slots were sold to various private operators and
this arrangement continues to date with Classic FM having recently bought all broadcast

With countries like India and Sri Lanka in the region who have enjoyed a much longer
tenure of democratic freedoms, one would have expected either of them to have hosted the
FM revolution in South Asia. But in all of the countries in the region, FM radio has gone the
furthest in Nepal because of the relatively more flexible legal regime for broadcast media. On
18 May 1997 Radio Sagarmatha FM 102.4 (owned by the NGO Nepal Forum of Environmental
Journalists or NEFEJ) became the first independent station to get a licence. It started its technical

testing phase four days later and its regular broadcast on 24 March 1998. Some months
later, on 14 October 1998, Kantipur FM 96.1 became the first independent commercial
station to go on air (now on 24 hours a day). This was followed by the launch of another
commercial station, K.A.T.H. FM 97.9 (owned by Image Channel FM) on 7 January 1999. Eight
months later, on 18 September 1999, Metro FM 106.7 (owned by Kathmandu Metropolitan)
started its operation. In September 2000, another commercial radio, Himalayan Broadcasting
Corporation FM 94, went on air. From January 2001, one of the former slot operators of FM
Kathmandu, Hits FM 91.2, has started its technical testing broadcast.

Three FM stations outside of Kathmandu started broadcasting regular programs in
the year 2000. Radio Lumbini FM 96.8 in Manigram near the central Tarai town of Butawal
is owned by Lumbini Information and Communication Cooperatives Limited. Radio
Madanpokhara FM 106.9 in the village of Madanpokhara in Palpa district in central Nepal is
owned by the locally elected village development committee, and the commercial
Manakamana FM 92.9 in Hetaunda in the central Tarai is owned by Creative Eyes Multimedia
and Entertainment Company. Apart from Radio Madanpokhara, all the other FM stations are
located in urban Nepal.

FM Radio and the Urbanscape : Seven Considerations

First: FM radio has certainly increased the amount of news available on radio to urban
listeners. Since these FM stations are not supposed to broadcast their own official news
bulletins (as per one of the conditions mentioned in their licence), none of the stations call
their news-oriented programs ‘news’. In terms of content, these programs vary a lot: they
include a reading of the headlines and some main news from major newspapers of the day,
economic reports, sports results, and reportage about literary activities, institutional
events, art exhibitions and other happenings in the Kathmandu society at large. By focus-
76 / Sarai Reader 2001: The Public Domain

FM Radio as Democratic Expression

It might be recalled here that the first licence to an independent FM radio station was issued only eight years ago in May 1997. That licence was given to Radio Sagarmatha. Since that moment of recognition that a radio station could be operated by a non-state owned entity in Nepal, there has been a phenomenal growth in the independent FM radio sector. By the end of 2004, 56 independent operators had been issued licenses, out of which more than 45 stations are already on air. The rest are in various stages of preparation and should go on air shortly barring unforeseen interferences by anti-democratic forces. When all 56 stations go on air, there will be independent radio stations in more than 20 of the 75 districts of the country. More than 40 of the stations will be located outside of the Kathmandu Valley. Apart from those who already have secured their licenses, there are dozens of other institutions who have shown an interest in operating independent radios in parts of the country that do not yet have a radio station. Some of them have already filed their applications for licenses with the concerned authority while others are in various stages of scoping out the possibilities. The spatial distribution of these stations is a clear evidence of democratization in Nepali society. From a Panchayat-era scenario of total media production concentration in Kathmandu, we now have a scene in which almost a third of the districts have a radio station of their own and that number is only going to grow provided we have a democratic environment that will facilitate that growth. This growth has been achieved primarily because of the recognition that people have the right to create broadcasting institutions that fulfill their right to information and their right to exercise their freedom of thought and expression. While the freedom of the print media had been explicitly recognized by Article 13 of the 1990 Constitution, the status of broadcast media on the same issue had been left unspecified in the Constitution. However a landmark decision made by the Supreme Court in July 2001 made up for this inadequacy (that decision is the subject of my article in this paper on 8 July 2004). In essence, broadcast media were assured the same freedoms as those available to print media by the Supreme Court. Apart from the growth in numbers, the ownership pattern of radio stations also reflects the post-Panchayat democratization in Nepali society. NGOs, cooperatives, locally elected bodies and private commercial companies own and manage FM radio stations with their own transmission sets. This possibility in ownership diversity was assured by the National Broadcast Act, 2049 BS. In passing the Act to assure such diversity in ownership, the then people's representatives recognized that the people's right to information and their right to freedom of expression and thought could only be assured by a pluralistic radio ownership model that could not be monopolized by the rich and the powerful elements of society. In addition to institutions who have been given licenses to operate radio stations, there are now several NGOs and private companies (such as Communication Corner) that produce good radio programs that are then broadcast from many FM radio stations located in different parts of the country. Radio stations have also exchanged programs and broadcast them in an effort to share both production resources and facilitate their listeners' knowledge of regions and cultures beyond their primary broadcast area. The spatial distribution of radio stations in different parts of the country, the variety in ownership pattern and the many sources of program production for broadcast over independent FM radio stations are all indisputable facts that suggest how in a democratic environment people will get together to create broadcasting institutions and programs that cater to their information and expression needs. Such an environment also provides the room for radio producers to learn from each other's experiences and provide better services to their listeners at large. As has been often pointed out, radio is the most democratic medium, because it is cheap and can be localized. People in countries with longer encounters with democracy in South Asia, namely India and Sri Lanka, have for long talked about plural possibilities for radio in their respective mediascapes without much to show in terms of achievement. India is mostly doing very expensive, tender-based private radio in the metros. Nepal has gone in the other direction, and this is ideal for a country with so many different identities and region-specific issues. It is for this reason that radio activists in other South Asian countries look up to Nepal's achievements to argue for a more democratic radio operation environment in their own countries. Much of what I have said here has been said before by myself and many others who have worked toward making independent FM radios a robust constituting element of a democratic Nepali society. While there are inadequacies in the independent radio sector (as has been discussed elsewhere), its achievement constitute a slap in the face to those who make it their business to repeat the cliché that 'nothing happened during the era of multiparty democracy.' In repeating myself I join the many other voices of opposition against the draconian efforts to silence FM radio stations, radio journalists and program producing institutions. These efforts by anti-democratic cabals operating from known and unknown quarters have to be opposed and ultimately defeated through the ongoing movement of all who cherish the right to be able to think for oneself and who consider the existence of independent FM radio stations and program producers as an expression of that right. Written by:Pratyoush Onta

FM Radio and the New Urban Public in Nepal

ing mostly on the ‘non-political’, these FMs have already stretched the definition of news.
Second, FM radio has increased the amount of what can be called ‘everyday life’ information.
This includes information about special events, traffic flows in the city, weather forecast,
flight schedule, bus schedule, market prices for vegetables and fruits, air pollution
readings, health tips and horoscopes (for those who believe in them). In addition, FM radio
has provided ‘live’ information about events such as elections, religious gatherings, and
national celebrations.
Third, FM radio is assisting the distribution of knowledge in new forms over the radio
waves. This is being done through programs designed to cater to various curiosities - about
contraceptives and careers, music and movies, stage and sports, language and literature,
health and hobbies and so on. Some of this new knowledge is executed through ‘quiz’ formats,
while others come in the form of chat programs and musicals. Some of this new
knowledge is superfluous but it being on air is a kind of knowledge democratization at work.
Music production has received a shot in the arm due to FM radio.
Fourth, FM radio has increased the amount of social analysis available on radio through
various programming formats. In the form of a monologue it comes as anonymous or attributed
response from persons walking on the streets (‘vox pop’ in radio parlance) or as commentary
from noted social critics such as Rhituraj, Chatyang Master, D. P. Bhandari and
Kishor Nepal (alas, they are all male!). As dialogue, such social analysis comes in the form
of one-to-one interviews between the host and her guest or in the form of multiple dialogues
between the host(s), guests and listeners who call in by phone (e.g., Dabali in Radio
Sagarmatha). Frequently, others have participated in such discussions by sending in their
queries by mail, fax or email before the programs go on air. Such analysis can also be found
in feature reportage focused on a specific theme as innovated by the early team of ‘Hamro
Khaldo’ in Radio Sagarmatha. Some of the subjects covered by these programs have never
been discussed over radio before, and others have received critical treatment impossible
to find on Radio Nepal. This kind of analysis is being done in Nepali and Newari already and
will emerge in other languages as the FM revolution spreads across Nepal.
Fifth, FM radio’s interactions with government officials and politicians have added to
the collective knowledge of urbanites regarding (mis)governance in Nepali society. Similarly,
discussions with practitioners of other professions have demystified specialist knowledge,
intellectually empowering the community of listeners.
Sixth, FM radio has increased the amount of oral history available on the radio. This
has been achieved through programs that present the life history of a ‘big’ person in his own
voice (Mero Kath) or through a profile of a ‘subaltern’ made by a reporter. Alternatively,
personal history often related to love tragedies (but occasional successful romances) has
become very popular in the form of letters to host Kalyan Gautam ("Dear Kalyan" is how
these letters begin in Mero Katha, Mero Git in Hits FM). Interviews by Bhairab Risal with
older folks in Uhile Bajeka Palama are also of this genre.
Seventh, FM radio programs have encouraged cross-media reference as a routine
practice of urban knowledge. While newspaper content has long been read over FM radio,
programs aired have influenced the print media as well. For example, since FM reports highlight
local sports events, broadsheet dailies have had to follow suit by increasing their cov-
Old Media/New Media Ongoing Histories / 77
erage of local sports. Additionally radio program hosts are bringing Internet content
to listeners who do not have direct access to the net and more radio programs are
increasingly becoming available in the Internet.
These seven points hardly exhaust the new knowledge urbanscape FM radio has
helped to generate in Kathmandu. But my intention is not to be exhaustive. Rather it is to
point out suggestively how FM radio is contributing to a new kind of urban public domain in
FM Radio and the New Communities
In this section I highlight FM radio communities and discuss their significance for the new
urban public sphere. Why highlight these communities some of which are ‘imagined’ at best?
What have they got to do with the new contours of our urban life? As will be clear from the
examples discussed below, FM radio is not only what goes on air. It is as much what
happens off air. If the programs aired are engendering a new public sphere, then the
communities that produce them and the communities, in turn, produced by them are important
elements of that sphere. The skills, intentions and desires of these communities define
for us some of the broad contours of our own experience of the new city.
First in the list of real communities is FM owning institutions. While Radio Sagarmatha
is owned by an NGO, commercial companies own Kantipur FM, K.A.T.H. FM, HBC FM, Hits
FM, and Manakamana FM. Locally elected government bodies own Metro FM in Kathmandu
and Radio Madanpokhara in Palpa. Radio Lumbini is owned by a cooperative. Companies,
cooperatives, local governments and NGOs are real institutional communities that have
taken up the new challenge of managing an FM station (this variety in ownership is an important
indication of the pluralism possible in radio in the region). The stations might not have
all the skills necessary for optimum operation but they are certainly learning on air. Off-air
they have even tried promotionals such as blood drives, child health camps, music awards
and anti-pollution campaigns to bolster their on-air image.
The group of program producers who either work as freelancers or are employed by
various FM stations comprises the second real community. When serious talk about FM
radios started in Nepal some seven years ago, many wondered where the people who
would run these stations would be found. That worry was genuine but exaggerated. After
all, we have found the people - program producers, technical experts, reporters, talk show
hosts, and music jockeys - indigenously, however inadequate their present skills might be.
Apart from individual producers, we also now have institutional program producers. For
instance, Communication Corner headed by Gopal Guragain in Kathmandu currently
produces a half-hour program called Kayakairan that is simultaneously broadcast over the
three FM radio stations outside of Kathmandu three times a week. Its aim is "to bring
listeners from outside the Valley emotionally close to the center by providing them up-dates
on happenings in Kathmandu". While the program cassettes have to be sent by bus at
the moment, with infrastructural developments, those stations will be able to download the
programs from the Internet directly.
The third real community comprises of a different type of producers - lyricists, musicians,
singers and others related to the music industry. They have benefited from the FM
78 / Sarai Reader 2001: The Public Domain
boom, as there are now more outlets for their creations. Equally, the stations can choose
from a larger pool of talent. But this subject deserves a separate treatment by more knowledgeable
The fourth real community comprises of a few FM activists. The Community Radio
Support Centre (headed by Raghu Mainali) of NEFEJ provides support to any institution interested
in opening a community radio station. The Centre will do feasibility studies for them
and give hands-on training to program producers. Communication Corner, the Centre for
Development Communication, Nepal Press Institute and some other organizations have
done research on different aspects of FM and have produced some useful manuals. Mainali
has also filed a writ in the Supreme Court challenging rules imposed by the government on
FM stations that, according to him, violate the Constitution of Nepal and the National
Broadcasting Act 2049. If the Court agrees with him, it will become easier to establish and
run FM stations.
FM radio has also given birth to new imagined or transient communities whose own
importance cannot be underestimated. Constituents of these imagined communities come
in two forms. First are news communities: people and institutions that are interested in
having news about their activities broadcast over radio and people who listen to such broadcasts.
In examining my incomplete records, I was surprised to find just how many members
of this community sent news of various happenings to Radio Sagarmatha’s Halchal program
during a two-month period in mid-1999.
The second imagined community consists of listeners of specific programs such as
Upendra Aryal’s musical Bihani Yatra or Kalyan Gautam’s Mero Katha, Mero Geet. He is by himself.
But he knows that, at that very moment, there are many others listening to the same program.
He will never meet most of them, yet he will feel like he is one with them - an imagined
community of the sort that has been made famous in social science parlance by Benedict
Anderson. FM radio has created many such imagined communities of fans of particular
stations, specific programs or their hosts. At times, a letter of praise or complaint against the
host for being partisan toward other members of the imagined community breaches the
anonymity, but it is never seriously done. On other occasions, such imagined communities
become a bit more real when, for instance, some FM fans went to Sundarijal for a picnic to
celebrate the new year 2000, or fans of Prakash Sayami’s program on ‘eternal’ Nepali songs
met to advance their common interest. Faces were put to known voices heard over the
airwaves but the community was a transient one at best. The fans soon returned to living their
own individual friendships with FM. As critic C.K. Lal put it nearly three years ago, FM is a good
friend to have in the city when families consist of atomized individuals.
Management, production, training, researches, publication and support skills that have
been developed in the context of FM radio are important assets not only for the field of
media but also for urban life and Nepali society at large. Many of these skills have been
transferred from other professions and they in turn will be passed on to other trades.
Whatever might be their trajectories, the communities that possess them are real and they
are here to stay. The imagined communities are also no less important for without them the
circuit of FM broadcast will not be complete. The future of our collective urban imagination
is richer by their presence whatever the politics of taste for FM programs might be.
Old Media/New Media Ongoing Histories / 79

December 24, 2004
Nepal Local FM radio broadcasts the wonderful experience of a young man in Nepal
Local FM radio broadcasts the wonderful experience of a young man in Nepal whose only worry in life was that no girl would marry him. Dr. Birsen Gokyigit, a Seva Volunteer took care of his problem. He feels so confident that he shares this wonderful experience in the local FM radio.
Parami Dhakhwa reports from Nepal
Seva Volunteer, Dr. Birsen Gokyigit
Nov 12th 2004: Arrived NepalNov 13th 2004: Flew to Bharatpur, King Mahendra Memorial Eye HospitalDec 9th 2004: Flew back to Kathmandu and also departed from Kathmandu.
Dr. Birsen Gokyigit of Turkey volunteered on behalf of Seva at King Mahendra Memorial Eye Hospital (KMMEH) Chitwan, Nepal for almost a month. Dr. Gokyigit was introduced to Seva by Dr. J. Merten, a long time Seva Volunteer to Nepal. Rotary International sponsored Dr. Gokyigit’s visit. While she was in Nepal, she dedicated her full time to the patients of Bharatpur. She worked for long hours in the hospital and performed various surgeries.
Every day she examined patients at the outpatient department and in total she performed about 70 surgeries. Especially small children and adult patients with squint benefited from her service.
Lot of patients who had squint took advantage of Dr. Birsen's visit. Prior to her visit squint patients who needed surgery had to travel to Kathmandu, the capital city, to have the surgery. It is very expensive for people to travel to Kathmandu and have surgery. So, generally people lacked proper treatment. Dr. Birsen's service made the treatment of such patients possible at their own community. She performed squint surgery to patients ranging from age 5 to 20. All the patients who had surgery were very happy with the result. One guy felt extremely lucky to have his squint corrected. He was about the age of 20. He worried that no girl would marry him because of his squint. After having the operation he said that he was very happy and he felt confident about himself and will soon find a girl to marry. He was even interviewed in local F.M. station to share his wonderful experience of the operation.
Dr. Birsen also created history by performing surgery to small children. With the help of anesthelogist from General Hospital at Bharatpur, she performed surgery to small kids. Had she not been there these children would have to travel either to Shree Rana Ambika Shah Eye Hospital, at Bhairahawa or to Kathmandu.
Dr. Birsen was not only good at her clinical work but she was also a very disciplined person. She demonstrated qualities a good staff of a hospital should have. She showed other staffs how a patient should be treated and the importance of punctuality and hard work at any working place.
We would like to thank all the wonderful people who made Dr. Birsen's visit to Bharatpur possible. We would also like to express our especial thanks to Dr. Birsen for her excellent service towards the people of Bharatpur.

Community Radio in Nepal
An Interview with Bharat Dutta Koirala published on BRIEFING DOCUMENT: COMMUNITY RADIO IN INDIA, Proceedings of an Internet Conference on The Hoot November 30, 2001 to February 10, 2002
Interview by SEVANTI NINAN
Q: What is the current status of community radio in Nepal, how many independent stations are now running? Could you please give some names and locations.
Out of the 22 independent radio stations now operating in Nepal, four can be called community stations. The others are referred to as commercial stations but most of them have strong public service contents in their programming. Nepal's National Broadcasting Act does not provide clear distinction between commercial and community stations. The community radio stations are identified by their ownership and the power of the transmitters they use. Since license fees are based on the transmitter's capacity, from Rs. 50,000 for using a 100 watt transmitter to Rs.200,000 for using a 500 watt transmitter, the communities prefer to use low power (100 to 200 watts) transmitters since they have very limited financial resources. All of the private stations are on the FM band since the law specifies that private groups can operate radio stations only on the FM band.
Of the four community radio stations one is located in Kathmandu and the other three are in western Nepal. Radio Sagarmatha was established as a community radio with a 100 watt transmitter. But since it has been providing its service to listeners in the whole Kathmandu Valley, along with six other commercial stations, its role has gradually changed from that of a community station to a popular public service station. It has been constantly expanding its programmes, in terms of time and diversity, and because of this expanded role it decided to increase its transmitter's power from 100 watts to 500 watts. The other community radio stations are: 1. Radio Madanpokhara which is located in Palpa District of Western Nepal. It is is owned and operated by the Village Development Committee of Madapokhara. 2. Lumbini FM is located at Manigram which is close to the industrial and commercial town of Butwal, also in Western Nepal. It is owned and operated by a cooperative formed by local entrepreneurs and journalists. 3. Swargadwari FM is located in the town of Ghorai, the headquarters of Dang District in Western Nepal. It is the newest among the community stations and has just started its test transmissions.
Of the private commercial stations there six in Kathmandu, four in Pokhara (a tourist town in Western Nepal), one in Bharatpur (Synergy FM) to the South of Kathmandu, one in Hetauda (Radio Mankamana), one in Itahari (Saptakoshi FM) in Eastern Nepal, one in the industrial town of Biratnagar (Koshi FM) and the re-transmitting station of Kantipur FM at Bhedetar in Eastern Nepal. Metro FM owned and operated by the Kathmandu Municipality, the environmental station in the process of being wset up and owned by an environment NGO (SEF) and the Spiritual FM (also in the process of being established) are three stations which have definite target audiences and have a public service motive.
There are at least 25 applications pending with the Government. No licenses have been issued in the past few months.
Q: How many of these are community owned and managed?
As already described above four of the existing 22 stations are owned and managed by local communities. Radio Madanpokhara is owned by the Village Development Committee, the lowest rung of the government structure. Radio Lumbini and Swargadwari are owned by local cooperatives and Radio Sagarmatha is owned by Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists. Among the 25 applications yet to be reviewed by the govlernment many of lthem are for community stations. In most cases local individuals have set cooperatives and then applied for licenses. However, in all cases there arfe broad-based broadcasting committees that oversee the work of the stations and are involved in making policies and deciding on programming.
Q: What has been the experience of Nepal in financing community radio? Has finance been easy to come by? Is it possible to give an approximate figure of what it costs to set up a small community radio station? What would be its reach?
The first two community stations in Nepal, Radio Sagarmatha (set up in 1997) and Radio Madanpokhara (set up in 1999) were financed through IPDC (UNESCO) grants. They have since then been supporting themselves both through donor assistance for specific projects and through their own income from advertising and sponsored programms. Both are now largely self-supporting. Lumbini FM at Manigram was set up by a cooperative with an initial investment of US$10,000 raised from among the members of the cooperative. Since then they have expanded their facilities both through their own income from advertising and sponsorship and a grant from DANIDA to set up a second studio and to buy a new transmitter. Swargadwari FM in Dang, too was set up by a cooperative with their own money but DANIDA provided the initial expenses to buy transmitting and studio equipment. They seem confident they will be self-supporting once they go on the air with their regular programmes. Finance has not been the main problem with the community radio movement in Nepal. Many communities that have applied for licenses plan to raise their own investment money, and in some cases, they have already done so. There are several donors who realize the value of community broadcasting in a country like Nepal and ready to offer assistance in setting up community stations. The real bottleneck is in the licensing process. Even though the process is very clear in the National Broadcasting Act and the National Broadcasting Regulations, the government has failed to promptly review the applications and grant licenses where the pre-requisites have been met.
It is difficult to say exactly how much it costs to set up a community radio station since a lot depends on the local circumstances. From our own experience we have found that a station like Radio Sagarmatha which serves a population of over a million people requires more than US$30,000 to set up the station. The operating costs are also relatively high. A really rural station like Radio Madanpokhara was set up and fully equipped with less than US$20,000. Based on these experiences we figure it will cost US$15,000 to make a rural-based station fully operational while an urban-based station will cost about US$30,000.
But, it must be remembered that community radio can be set up and broadcast with much less since all it takes is a transmitter and a few microphones to go on the air with local programms. What is required is the motivation and enthusiasm of the local community to use the medium.
Q: What is the most common source of financing, is there any financing by the community? Is there any revenue from advertising?
In all cases there has been some local financing. While some received initial funding from UNESCO or DANIDA, there were others that raised money locally both to set up and operate their stations. In the case oworried about financing. In tghe case of the Manigram station, they have so much advertising that they are no longer worried about financing. Radio Madanpokhara has saved enough money to money property and building a new structure to house a studio and offices. Swargadwari FM has raised enough money to operate the station; donor money was used to buy equipment. Madanpokhara holds period meetings of the community to discuss how more resources can be mobilized to make the station sustainable. Yes, there is some advertising revenue in all cases. These stations, not being commercial, have a policy to broadcasting limited number of advertising messages and be more selective in the type of advertisements to be accepted by the station.
Q: Is there much interference from the government in running community radio?
Surprisingly, there has not been much interference from the government. One of the conditions imposed at the time granting the license is to broadcast Radio Nepal's main news, which all stations do. Recently, the independent stations received a letter from the government to use 25% of their time in broadcasting programms of Radio Nepal. The stations decided not to do it and the Minister of Information and Communication claimed he was unaware of such a letter. On the whole the stations are quite independent. What is sad is that the government is not issuing licenses on a continuing basis. Q: In countries like lndia fear of misuse in insurgency is cited as a common reason for not permitting community radio stations. Given the Maoist insurgency in Nepal how has community radio managed to be permitted by the government?
Fear of misuse in insurgency is only an excuse for not granting licenses to operate community radio stations. In Latin America where there are thousands of community radio stations, there has not been cases of such stations being taken over or misused by insurgents. In the Philippines where there are many community radio stations, even in the area most affected by insurgencies, the radio stations continue to operate and serve their communities. Insurgents are not interested in local stations, they would rather capture government stations which are better endowed and have wider reach. Besides, insurgents are often members of communities that operate the stations and would, therefore, like to see the station continue to inform and entertain the community. In Nepal, none of the stations have become the targets of the Maoist insurgency even though the stations exist in some of the most sensitive areas. Frankly, the flow of information that local radio stations generate is the best safeguard against insurgency. Local stations are the most effective means of promoting democratic education.
Q: What sort of safeguards are there against such radio stations being hijacked by people with political agendas? Have the Maoists established or attempted to establish any radio stations?
It is true that unscrupulous politicians could try to hijack such stations with their own political agenda. But there are enough safeguards to prevent this from happening. First, the legal framework should provide the initial safeguards. In the case of Nepal, the National Broadcasting Act clearly states that private radio stations should not be used for a political purpose, rather it should be a medium for the education and entertainment of the people. Second, the broad-based broadcasting committee which the community appoints to oversee the work of the station should be so balanced that no individual or party can hijack the station. Third, since the stations are on the FM band, they are able to reach only the members of the community who react promptly to any attempt by politicians to impose their agenda. There was a piece of news a few weeks ago which spoke about a Maoist radio station in the mid-western hills. It did not specify where exactly the station was and what it broadcast. There has not beenany other information to corroborate the published news item.
Q: Now that stations like Sagarmatha have been running for a few years,What sort of problems are cropping up here, or elsewhere if any?
Yes, Sagarmatha has been running since 1997 and it has been able to establish itself as a free, independent and high credible station. Since most of the private radio stations are of commercial nature, Radio Sagarmatha has the distinction of being the only public service stations that could survive the competition. There several problems that the station has faced. First, how to survive with limited advertising and more educational service-oriented programmes. Second, how retain creative and dynamic journalists and producers in a competitive world. Two such producers are working at the BBC in London. Third, how to learn management techniques (of running radio stations) on a continuing basis. Fourth, how to create a marketing strategy and a dynamic marketing team in a small, low-cost station. Finally, how to motivate volunteers who could produce programmes without posing a burden on the limited resources.
Q: Is sustainability becoming a problem or not?
Sustainability is a topic that always comes up when there a is discussion on community radio stations. I found the same thing in the Philippines where there are many community radio stations that have been operating for a nunmber of years. The question of sustainability comes up because many such stations have been set up through grants by donors with the initial misgivings that the communities would not be able to manage the stations once the support is with drawn. The very fact that most of the stations are running, many of them are doing very well and some have even saved enough to expand their facilities and services confirms our belief that community radio can become fully sustainable. But, to be able to do so, the community must be intimately involved in the planning, establishment and operation of the station. Once the people feel that it is their station, that they must run it, and that it must continue to serve the community, the station will become sustainable. Any outside support should be limited to purchase of new equipment and training in techniques and management.
When we have many stations, there will be some which will do very well,some will manage to exist, while a few may even close down. This is a fact of life we must accept. But, looking at the present status of community radio in Nepal there is every reason to expect the existing stations to become fully sustainable.

Source: The Hoot