Journalists fight FM radio crackdown

New York, June 2, 2005 – The director of a recently banned radio production and distribution company filed a legal challenge with Nepal’s Supreme Court, inspiring local radio journalists to protest.

In his May 30 petition to the court, Communication Corner Director Gopal Guragain said that the government’s May 27 ban was an illegal effort to curtail press freedom in Nepal. Guragain asked the court to issue a stay that would allow the company to continue to operate legally, reported.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court responded, requesting the government provide a written explanation within 15 days for its order to shut down Communication Corner. The court also asked that representatives from the Ministry of Information and Communication (MOIC) and the Ministry of Defense appear in court tomorrow, the daily Kantipur reported.

The MOIC ordered the private company’s closure on May 27 citing “written complaints that it is being operated illegally,” according to local news reports.

Guragain defied the government order, saying that the company had not broken any laws, that its license and taxes were all in order, and that he would keep the company open. Founded five years ago, Communication Corner produces daily radio news programming for over 10 FM radio stations throughout Nepal, including news bulletins and current affairs programs.

Local journalists have unified in support of the station. Yesterday, a coalition of radio journalists calling themselves the Save Independent Radio Movement mailed an old radio and a copy of Nepal’s constitution to Information Minister Tanka Dahal in protest, according to The Associated Press. The act came on the fourth of seven days of planned demonstrations by the group, calling for an end to the ban and to media restrictions.

In the south, four FM radio stations in the city of Pokhara rehired more than 12 radio journalists on May 30, Kantipur reported. A ban on independent news programming in Nepal has resulted in the dismissal of most radio journalists.

FM radio, once a vibrant part of local media with over 50 stations, has suffered under the harsh new restrictions of King Gyanendra’s February 1 state of emergency. A new media law, now under review, will officially bar radio stations from broadcasting any kind of news, according to local news reports.

“We join our colleagues in Nepal in protesting the outrageous and illegal closure of Communication Corner, the latest restriction in the stifling crackdown on press freedom,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Journalists must be allowed to do their work freely, without government harassment and interference. The order for closure of Communication Corner must be lifted.”