Kennard, Susan" (by way of EricKluitenberg) on 26 Jan 2001 20:27:00 -0000

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<nettime> (Xchange) FW: Government gags radio in Nepal

-----Original Message-----
From: News @ Sagarmatha []
Sent: Sunday, January 21, 2001 2:28 AM
Subject: Government gags radio in Nepal

Government Gags Radio
Kathmandu, 18 January

The Development and Communication Committee of Parliament has summoned
government officials to a hearing to have them explain the rationale
behind the recent decision to ban news and current affairs programming on
independent FM radios.

Member of the main opposition Raghuji Pant told Nepali Times that the
government decision was a serious attack on press freedom and that the
parliamentary committee would make every effort to reverse the decision.
"The decision is a reminder of the previous regime where zonal
commissioners used similar means to gag the press," said Pant. "We'll make
every effort to see that the government pulls back."

The Ministry of Information and Communication (MOIC) took the decision 2
January saying all it was doing was enforcing conditions that stations had
agreed to while obtaining their broadcasting licenses. Independent FM
stations have not commented on the ban: some have stopped current affairs
programming while others have continued to broadcast their regular current
affairs programmes.

Nepal is a public radio pioneer in South Asia. It was the first country to
allow community radio stations in 1997 when Radio Sagarmatha went on air
in Kathmandu. Nepal has also been more liberal than others in the region
in allowing private FM broadcasters. The deregulation increased
credibility and professionalism of radio, made the medium interactive and
citizens more aware of news and trends.

A clause in the FM license disallows news broadcasts, but the government
claims private FM stations were circumventing it by reading a selection of
daily newspapers without checking facts. Lawyers, however, said even the
license clause is questionable because the Broadcast Act does not
specifically ban news. Instead a clause in it says that news when
broadcast should be edited and produced fairly and impartially.

Sources at the ministry said the decision was taken by
journalist-turned-minister Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta himself in the
aftermath of the street riots of 26-27 December. Some FM stations were
blamed for inciting tensions by broadcasting jingoistic reports and songs.
The government move comes at a time when Gupta himself has been under fire
from the media for demanding an apology from the Indian actor Hrithik
Roshan for rumoured comments about Nepal that incited the violence, but
which were later proved to be false.

In early August, Minister Gupta had attempted to change a rule relating to
the print media but was forced to withdraw after the parliamentary
committee rejected the government proposal. The government had planned to
force newspapers to renew registrations annually, which the press said
would give government a ploy to silence opposition media.

Bharat Koirala, the one Nepali who has been engaged in a crusade to
promote community radio and campaigned five years to get Radio Sagarmatha
its license, is not happy with the decision. "It's not right," he said.
"FM stations were helping create a free, independent and pluralistic
media, and promoting public debate in our democracy."

The distinctive and popular voice of Radio Sagarmatha, which relied
heavily on its own news and analysis, has been worst hit. The station had
popular talk shows, news programmes, panel discussions and phone-ins. The
station is run by a group of environmental journalists and was already
under pressure from the Ministry, which hadn't renewed its license.

Sri Ram Poudel, Secretary at the Ministry of Information and
Communication, denies that this is an attempt to gag radio. "This is not
censorship. We are only trying to make news more factual," he said.

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