New York, August 4, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by the Nepalese government’s threat to pull the license of independent radio station Nepal FM 91.8 for defying an official ban on broadcasting news.
“The independent broadcasting of FM radio news is protected by Nepal’s constitution and is vital for the free flow of information in that country,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We urge authorities to stop harassing Nepal FM 91.8 and to allow this and other radio stations to air independently news without interference.”
The Ministry of Information and Communications has given the station seven days to provide an explanation for airing news on its program “Rajdhani Khabar” on July 7, July 10, and August 1, according to local news reports and CPJ sources. The ministry threatened to revoke the radio station’s license for violating an order that independent FM stations broadcast only entertainment programming.
Authorities issued the order after King Gyanendra dismissed the multiparty government and declared a state of emergency on February 1. Hundreds of radio journalists have lost their jobs, and citizens in rural areas have lost one of their primary sources of news, according to CPJ research. (See CPJ’s special report, “A Country Silenced,” at: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2005/nepal_05/nepal_05_main.html.)
Journalists have challenged the constitutionality of the FM news ban in court. The Supreme Court sided with journalists in one case, in June, when it stayed the government’s order to shut down Communication Corner, a producer and distributor of independent radio programs. Despite the ruling in the Communication Corner case, the government has kept the overall ban in effect.
Nepal FM 91.8 joined other radio stations in defying the ban by broadcasting news of the king’s birthday on July 7. The station has continued to broadcast news on social issues and development on “Rajdhani Khabar.” The station said it intend to continue doing so.
“We aired news yesterday and we will air news today and tomorrow,” the station’s managing director Bishnuhari Dhakal told The Associated Press. “We will take to the streets and seek legal options to challenge the government action.”
Local journalist groups, including the radio journalists’ organization Save the Independent Radio Movement, have protested the latest attack on FM radio news.