NEPAL: Supreme Court ruling fails to allay the fears of FM radio stations
FM radio stations remain reluctant to air news about sensitive political issues for fear of government reprisal
Friday, September 2, 2005
Nepalese journalists thought they had finally succeeded.
After holding numerous rallies and protests against the many restrictions imposed on the media by King Gyanendra following the Feb. 1 royal coup, the Nepalese media community finally achieved its first significant legal victory against the royal government in Nepal's highest court on Aug. 10.
The Nepal Supreme Court denied the government the right to take action against Rainbow FM for defying the ban on airing news programs on FM radio. Two days earlier, Rainbow FM Pvt. Ltd. had filed suit against the government for threatening to cancel its operating license.
Media advocacy groups, Nepalese journalists and FM radio stations hailed the Supreme Court's ruling as a landmark decision in the fight to restore press freedom in Nepal. Yet weeks after the ruling, prospects remain bleak as FM radio stations continue to avoid airing news programs that may garner unwanted attention from the royal government.
Though the government may be unable to legally challenge the Supreme Court's ruling anytime in the near future, Nepali Times editor Kunda Dixit says that FM radio stations continue to remain careful not to broadcast programs that could potentially rouse authorities.
The government is not happy with the ruling, Dixit said in email, but for the moment, "they can't do anything legally against the Supreme Court." Still, FM stations are taking things cautiously by "dropping sensitive Maoist or political coverage from their bulletins."
As station manager for Radio Sagarmatha (RS), one of the most popular independent radio stations in Nepal, Mohan Bista knows first-hand about the current plight of FM radio stations. In spite of the recent Supreme Court ruling, Bista says that FM stations like RS continue to fear government action for airing news programs. The ruling is actually a temporary stay order against government in its decision in favor of Rainbow FM but does not effectively abolish the ban on FM radio news programming altogether.
Bista also says that the government has challenged the legitimacy of a previous Supreme Court decision in favor of FM stations in the past, so it seems likely that the government will also challenge the most recent ruling.
"The Supreme Court already gave a verdict in 2002 that FM stations can broadcast the news," Bista said in email. "But after Feb. 1 , the government is not respecting the Supreme Court's decision."
Although FM radio stations continue to remain cautious in deciding what programs to air, the Supreme Court decision did bring about one positive development for the FM radio community: Radio journalists are now returning to their jobs.
"Radio Sagarmatha did not fire any staff [members] after Feb. 1. But other stations did and now [radio journalists] are getting jobs again," Bista said."
Nepalese newspapers and press releases from media advocacy groups like Reporters Without Borders say that nearly 1,000 radio journalists lost their jobs as a result of the government ban. Still, even with the Supreme Court's backing, radio stations continue to struggle financially.
"Financially, [FM radio stations] are facing very hard times, especially community radio stations like Radio Sagarmatha," Bista said.
The fear of government reprisal also remains a very real concern for FM radio stations. Echoing the words of Dixit, Bista says that FM radio stations are careful not to air certain types of news.
"We are airing the news, but not like before Feb. 1," Bista said. "We have to be very careful in selecting news. And still we [have fear] after broadcasting news or any current affairs program."
Date Posted: 9/2/2005