Community Radio in Nepal
An Interview with
Bharat Dutta Koirala
published on BRIEFING
DOCUMENT: COMMUNITY RADIO IN INDIA,
of an Internet Conference on The
November 30, 2001 to February 10, 2002
Interview by SEVANTI NINAN
Q: What is the current status of community radio in Nepal,
how many independent stations are now running? Could you
please give some names and locations.
Out of the 22 independent radio stations
now operating in Nepal, four can be called community stations.
The others are referred to as commercial stations but most
of them have strong public service contents in their programming.
Nepal's National Broadcasting Act does not provide clear
distinction between commercial and community stations. The
community radio stations are identified by their ownership
and the power of the transmitters they use. Since license
fees are based on the transmitter's capacity, from Rs. 50,000
for using a 100 watt transmitter to Rs.200,000 for using
a 500 watt transmitter, the communities prefer to use low
power (100 to 200 watts) transmitters since they have very
limited financial resources. All of the private stations
are on the FM band since the law specifies that private
groups can operate radio stations only on the FM band.
Of the four community radio stations one
is located in Kathmandu and the other three are in western
Nepal. Radio Sagarmatha was established as a community radio
with a 100 watt transmitter. But since it has been providing
its service to listeners in the whole Kathmandu Valley,
along with six other commercial stations, its role has gradually
changed from that of a community station to a popular public
service station. It has been constantly expanding its programmes,
in terms of time and diversity, and because of this expanded
role it decided to increase its transmitter's power from
100 watts to 500 watts.
The other community radio stations are: 1. Radio Madanpokhara
which is located in Palpa District of Western Nepal. It
is is owned and operated by the Village Development Committee
of Madapokhara. 2. Lumbini FM is located at Manigram which
is close to the industrial and commercial town of Butwal,
also in Western Nepal. It is owned and operated by a cooperative
formed by local entrepreneurs and journalists. 3. Swargadwari
FM is located in the town of Ghorai, the headquarters of
Dang District in Western Nepal. It is the newest among the
community stations and has just started its test transmissions.
Of the private commercial stations there
six in Kathmandu, four in Pokhara (a tourist town in Western
Nepal), one in Bharatpur (Synergy FM) to the South of Kathmandu,
one in Hetauda (Radio Mankamana), one in Itahari (Saptakoshi
FM) in Eastern Nepal, one in the industrial town of Biratnagar
(Koshi FM) and the re-transmitting station of Kantipur FM
at Bhedetar in Eastern Nepal.
Metro FM owned and operated by the Kathmandu Municipality,
the environmental station in the process of being wset up
and owned by an environment NGO (SEF) and the Spiritual
FM (also in the process of being established) are three
stations which have definite target audiences and have a
public service motive.
There are at least 25 applications pending
with the Government. No licenses have been issued in the
past few months.
Q: How many of these are community
owned and managed?
As already described above four of the
existing 22 stations are owned and managed by local communities.
Radio Madanpokhara is owned by the Village Development Committee,
the lowest rung of the government structure. Radio Lumbini
and Swargadwari are owned by local cooperatives and Radio
Sagarmatha is owned by Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists.
Among the 25 applications yet to be reviewed by the govlernment
many of lthem are for community stations. In most cases
local individuals have set cooperatives and then applied
for licenses. However, in all cases there arfe broad-based
broadcasting committees that oversee the work of the stations
and are involved in making policies and deciding on programming.
Q: What has been the experience of
Nepal in financing community radio? Has finance been easy
to come by? Is it possible to give an approximate figure
of what it costs to set up a small community radio station?
What would be its reach?
The first two community stations in Nepal,
Radio Sagarmatha (set up in 1997) and Radio Madanpokhara
(set up in 1999) were financed through IPDC (UNESCO) grants.
They have since then been supporting themselves both through
donor assistance for specific projects and through their
own income from advertising and sponsored programms. Both
are now largely self-supporting. Lumbini FM at Manigram
was set up by a cooperative with an initial investment of
US$10,000 raised from among the members of the cooperative.
Since then they have expanded their facilities both through
their own income from advertising and sponsorship and a
grant from DANIDA to set up a second studio and to buy a
new transmitter. Swargadwari FM in Dang, too was set up
by a cooperative with their own money but DANIDA provided
the initial expenses to buy transmitting and studio equipment.
They seem confident they will be self-supporting once they
go on the air with their regular programmes. Finance has
not been the main problem with the community radio movement
in Nepal. Many communities that have applied for licenses
plan to raise their own investment money, and in some cases,
they have already done so. There are several donors who
realize the value of community broadcasting in a country
like Nepal and ready to offer assistance in setting up community
stations. The real bottleneck is in the licensing process.
Even though the process is very clear in the National Broadcasting
Act and the National Broadcasting Regulations, the government
has failed to promptly review the applications and grant
licenses where the pre-requisites have been met.
It is difficult to say exactly how much
it costs to set up a community radio station since a lot
depends on the local circumstances. From our own experience
we have found that a station like Radio Sagarmatha which
serves a population of over a million people requires more
than US$30,000 to set up the station. The operating costs
are also relatively high. A really rural station like Radio
Madanpokhara was set up and fully equipped with less than
US$20,000. Based on these experiences we figure it will
cost US$15,000 to make a rural-based station fully operational
while an urban-based station will cost about US$30,000.
But, it must be remembered that community
radio can be set up and broadcast with much less since all
it takes is a transmitter and a few microphones to go on
the air with local programms. What is required is the motivation
and enthusiasm of the local community to use the medium.
Q: What is the most common source of
financing, is there any financing by the community? Is there
any revenue from advertising?
In all cases there has been some local
financing. While some received initial funding from UNESCO
or DANIDA, there were others that raised money locally both
to set up and operate their stations. In the case oworried
about financing. In tghe case of the Manigram station, they
have so much advertising that they are no longer worried
about financing. Radio Madanpokhara has saved enough money
to money property and building a new structure to house
a studio and offices. Swargadwari FM has raised enough money
to operate the station; donor money was used to buy equipment.
Madanpokhara holds period meetings of the community to discuss
how more resources can be mobilized to make the station
sustainable. Yes, there is some advertising revenue in all
cases. These stations, not being commercial, have a policy
to broadcasting limited number of advertising messages and
be more selective in the type of advertisements to be accepted
by the station.
Q: Is there much interference from
the government in running community radio?
Surprisingly, there has not been much
interference from the government. One of the conditions
imposed at the time granting the license is to broadcast
Radio Nepal's main news, which all stations do. Recently,
the independent stations received a letter from the government
to use 25% of their time in broadcasting programms of Radio
Nepal. The stations decided not to do it and the Minister
of Information and Communication claimed he was unaware
of such a letter. On the whole the stations are quite independent.
What is sad is that the government is not issuing licenses
on a continuing basis.
Q: In countries like lndia fear of misuse in insurgency
is cited as a common reason for not permitting community
radio stations. Given the Maoist insurgency in Nepal how
has community radio managed to be permitted by the government?
Fear of misuse in insurgency is only an
excuse for not granting licenses to operate community radio
stations. In Latin America where there are thousands of
community radio stations, there has not been cases of such
stations being taken over or misused by insurgents. In the
Philippines where there are many community radio stations,
even in the area most affected by insurgencies, the radio
stations continue to operate and serve their communities.
Insurgents are not interested in local stations, they would
rather capture government stations which are better endowed
and have wider reach. Besides, insurgents are often members
of communities that operate the stations and would, therefore,
like to see the station continue to inform and entertain
In Nepal, none of the stations have become the targets of
the Maoist insurgency even though the stations exist in
some of the most sensitive areas. Frankly, the flow of information
that local radio stations generate is the best safeguard
against insurgency. Local stations are the most effective
means of promoting democratic education.
Q: What sort of safeguards are there
against such radio stations being hijacked by people with
political agendas? Have the Maoists established or attempted
to establish any radio stations?
It is true that unscrupulous politicians
could try to hijack such stations with their own political
agenda. But there are enough safeguards to prevent this
from happening. First, the legal framework should provide
the initial safeguards. In the case of Nepal, the National
Broadcasting Act clearly states that private radio stations
should not be used for a political purpose, rather it should
be a medium for the education and entertainment of the people.
Second, the broad-based broadcasting committee which the
community appoints to oversee the work of the station should
be so balanced that no individual or party can hijack the
station. Third, since the stations are on the FM band, they
are able to reach only the members of the community who
react promptly to any attempt by politicians to impose their
There was a piece of news a few weeks ago which spoke about
a Maoist radio station in the mid-western hills. It did
not specify where exactly the station was and what it broadcast.
There has not beenany other information to corroborate the
published news item.
Q: Now that stations like Sagarmatha
have been running for a few years,What sort of problems
are cropping up here, or elsewhere if any?
Yes, Sagarmatha has been running since
1997 and it has been able to establish itself as a free,
independent and high credible station. Since most of the
private radio stations are of commercial nature, Radio Sagarmatha
has the distinction of being the only public service stations
that could survive the competition. There several problems
that the station has faced. First, how to survive with limited
advertising and more educational service-oriented programmes.
Second, how retain creative and dynamic journalists and
producers in a competitive world. Two such producers are
working at the BBC in London. Third, how to learn management
techniques (of running radio stations) on a continuing basis.
Fourth, how to create a marketing strategy and a dynamic
marketing team in a small, low-cost station. Finally, how
to motivate volunteers who could produce programmes without
posing a burden on the limited resources.
Q: Is sustainability becoming a problem
Sustainability is a topic that always
comes up when there a is discussion on community radio stations.
I found the same thing in the Philippines where there are
many community radio stations that have been operating for
a nunmber of years. The question of sustainability comes
up because many such stations have been set up through grants
by donors with the initial misgivings that the communities
would not be able to manage the stations once the support
is with drawn. The very fact that most of the stations are
running, many of them are doing very well and some have
even saved enough to expand their facilities and services
confirms our belief that community radio can become fully
sustainable. But, to be able to do so, the community must
be intimately involved in the planning, establishment and
operation of the station. Once the people feel that it is
their station, that they must run it, and that it must continue
to serve the community, the station will become sustainable.
Any outside support should be limited to purchase of new
equipment and training in techniques and management.
When we have many stations, there will
be some which will do very well,some will manage to exist,
while a few may even close down. This is a fact of life
we must accept. But, looking at the present status of community
radio in Nepal there is every reason to expect the existing
stations to become fully sustainable.