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Everybody Loves a Good Conflict? Radio Broadcasting Policy in Nepal

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AnOx 2013 alumni Preeti Raghunath discusses Nepal’s radio landscape, situating it within the country’s political environment. Preeti is pursuing her doctoral research at the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, India, on comparative policy frameworks on Community Radio in South Asia. Her research interests include community media for peace, media in conflict and transitional societies, media policy, critical political economy, critical security studies and deliberative policy-making.

Media policies in transitional societies often mirror the nature of governance, and policy making in such nations. Nepal provides a prime case study of a transitional nation whose media policy reflects issues with its governance structures. The country itself acts as a buffer state between India and China, successfully ousted a 240-year monarchy after a decade-long civil war between the extreme-left Maoists and the King’s security forces, and became the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in 2008. Currently, Nepal is mired in repeated attempts to draft a Constitution, and is expected to finally hold a long awaited Constituent Assembly election in November of this year. The impact of the larger political scene on media policies, especially policies concerning community radio (CR) broadcasting, makes for an interesting study.

Nepal is widely credited for being the first country in South Asia to open up its airwaves to community and private broadcasting. The National Media Policy of 1992, the National Broadcasting Act of 1993 and the National Broadcasting Regulation of 1995 permitted the establishment and broadcasting of community radio stations in the country (Pringle; Subba, 2007). In 1992 various actors such as the Nepal Press Institute, the Himal Group, Worldview Nepal and the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) came together to apply for a community radio broadcasting license. After a five-year struggle, Radio Sagarmatha became the first CR station in Nepal and South Asia to receive a broadcasting license and go on air in 1996 (UNESCO, 2003). With that, Nepal’s successful tryst with community broadcasting became a talking point for activists in countries like India and Bangladesh, who were lobbying for the opening up of airwaves in their respective countries.

Today Nepal has a thriving community radio sector with about 250 CRs operating in 74 of the country’s 75 districts. Nepal, however, surprisingly has no specific CR policy, even though countries such as India and Bangladesh have introduced and implemented sector-specific broadcast policy guidelines. In operational terms this means there is no legal differentiation between commercial and community broadcasting, allowing for numerous discrepancies in taxation regimes, claims to advertising revenue and donor funding, and ownership patterns.

Nepal is home to a hybrid actor landscape where international organisations have always been part of the machinery that aids the state. This is also true of the media landscape, where international organisations and donor agencies impinge upon media functions and policies. These actors involve themselves by providing their input on Nepal’s national media policy, funding community radio initiatives, supporting radio programming, and working with the epistemic community active in Nepal’s CR scene. This epistemic community comprises not only individual media and policy activists and experts, but also the national Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (ACORAB). As the main representative for community radio broadcasters in Nepal, ACORAB is part of broadcast policy negotiation exercises and is often invited to the policy table by the Ministry of Information and Communication (MOIC) of Nepal. ACORAB also works in association with larger broadcasting associations like the Broadcasting Association Network (BAN), the umbrella body for commercial broadcasters.

Despite having a diverse media and actor landscape, Nepal’s current media policy conundrum is attributed to the absence of a constitution and a parliament. Any negotiation or media policy draft submission over the last five years has been met with a sense of hapless helplessness from all quarters, including civil society organizations, media activists and the government. Without both a constitution serving as the basis for larger legal principles and a parliament to construct, debate, and pass laws, Nepal’s media policy has been stagnant over the past few years. The National Broadcasting Act of 1993 continues to govern the sector after two decades. This situation could be viewed as rather frustrating for civil society actors as well as the bureaucrats in the MOIC. But is this really an issue? Do the ambiguities in policy allow actors and initiatives to thrive in the CR sector? Do they necessarily conform to overarching principles of CR or do they allow for distortions? Is this a case of making hay while the sun shines rather brightly in Nepal’s transition period? The upcoming Constituent Assembly elections in November, and the months to follow, will provide many answers, especially if it inspires changes in Nepal’s media policy.

References

Dahal, Dev Raj. (2008). Post-Conflict Peace Building in Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities. Paper Presented at a training organized by Nepal Administrative Staff College for Joint Secretaries of various ministries on June 20, 2010.

Pringle, Ian and Subba, Bikram. (2007). Ten Years On: The State of Community Radio in Nepal. UNESCO

UNESCO. (2003). Legislation on Community Radio Broadcasting: Comparative study of the legislation of 13 countries.


Photo Credit: Jeanne Menj
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This post first appeared on the CGCS Blog (October 3, 2013)

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