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Radio Sagarmatha, the Nepalese Community Broadcasting NGO

Newsgroups: reg.sasia
Subject: Greens Launch A Community Radio Staion for Nepal
Date: 10 Aug 1998 20:16:02
Lines: 169

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date sent: Mon, 10 Aug 1998 02:10:09 +0530 (GMT+5:30)
From: "" 

Tiny landlocked Nepal, the Himalayan country that is home to some
of the world's highest peaks, is showing the way to South Asia by
going right ahead and setting up its first community radio

By a TWN Team

Tiny landlocked Nepal, the Himalayan country that is home to some
of the world's highest peaks, is showing the way to South Asia by
going right ahead and setting up its first community radio

Official restrictions have not wet-blanketed the arrival of
"Radio Sagarmatha", the first non-official, community-run FM
station in the country. It was set up some months back. Each
morning at seven, this station already fills the airwaves of
capital Kathmandu with the sound of long forgotten Nepali folk
music mixed with "development messages".

Sagarmatha -- literally meaning the forehead of the ocean -- is
the Nepali name for Mount Everest, the mightiest peak in the
world standing 8,848 meters tall.

The Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ), the lead
organisation implementing this project, has a plan to develop the
Kathmandu station of Radio Sagarmatha as a prototype and a
training and resources centre.

"Our long term objective is to encourage dozens or more of small
stations throughout the Himalayan country," NEFEJ executive
director Om Khadka said.

But Radio Sagarmatha launched its own test transmissions early
June only after a herculean effort to get the green signal and a
license from the government.

Over a dozen other applications are believed to be pending with
the ministry of communication and information, in this Himalayan
kingdom which geographically forms a sort of wedge between India
and China. But, analysts in Kathmandu feel, it is unlikely that
there will be more private radio stations going on the air

For the present though, Nepal has only, two FM stations both
operating from Kathmandu. Radio Sagarmatha's 500 watts
transmitter has just joined the government-run FM Kathmandu. It
covers the Kathmandu valley, an area of around four hundred sq.

Radio Sagarmatha is an unusual experiment in other ways too. Some
of the country's best-known media organisations -- including the
Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists or NEFEJ, the Nepal
Press Institute, publishers of an upcoming South Asian magazine,
Himal Association and Worldview Nepal have taken a lead in
getting this project going.

Radio Sagarmatha began its test runs in June. It is expected to
begin full-fledged programs shortly. Most would contain "info-
tainment" and "edu-tainment". This mix of information,
entertainment and education is needed to draw audiences and yet
keep within its mandate. Only one-quarter or so of the programmes
are slated to be of an entertainment nature.

UNESCO, the United Nation's Cultural, Educational and Scientific
Organisation donated US$60,000 worth of equipment for setting up
a recording-cure-air studio in Kathmandu, for transmitters and
some studio equipments.

Like its South Asian neighbours, Nepal has been slow in loosening
bureaucratic control over the airwaves. "Nepal's government has
shown reluctance even in reviewing the applications, let alone
the granting of licenses," says NEFEJ's Khadka.

"Those in governance in Nepal were, and are, so reluctant in
adopting any new approach that they hesitate in going forward.
This was the main cause for Radio Sagarmatha taking five years in
taking off," said Khadka.

He added: "Though we have democratic rule in Nepal, governments
of either rightists or leftists have been reluctant to free the
communication medium in the country." In 1990, following pro-
democracy demonstrations, Nepal's King Birendra proclaimed a
constitution which relinquished his absolute powers, and brought
in a multi-party system.

Under the terms of its own license, Radio Sagarmatha is
restricted to only two hours of airing programmes daily. In
addition, the radio is required to hook-up for news from the
national radio broadcast of Radio Nepal. Entertainment programmes
are restricted to one-quarter of total air time. Each week's
programme menu needs to be submitted to the government for

"The license contains a number of things that are even against
the norm of existing laws, and most of these are impractical,"
say those manning the new station. There are hints that the
promoters of this venture might opt for a legal battle to get
more breathing space for their operations.

Still, this station's promoters want its approach to be
different. Its promoters say priority will be given to health
education, family planning, Nepal's indigenous cultures and
environmental awareness.

Environmental problems have been a concern in Nepal for quite
some time. Some two-thirds of the country's rural population live
in mountains and plateaus with only 30% of Nepal's arable land.

This demographic weight has caused erosion and deforestation to
reach alarming proportions. Low productivity, unemployment and
poverty are some of the concerns staring the country in the face.

UN development statistics say 75% of Nepalis live below the
poverty line. Average life expectancy is 55 years. One in every
10 infants dies before the age of five, and 40% of Nepali
children are undernourished.

Its backers hope that the Radio Sagarmatha experiment will boost
pluralism in the broadcast media in the South Asian region, where
the scene has largely been dominated by large, sometimes-monolith
official organisations.

"Radio has always been a potent medium of mass communication for
Nepal as two-thirds of the country is mountainous, making
accessibility difficult, and 70 percent of the population is
illiterate," comments Nepali journalist Deepak Gajurel. South
Asia as a whole has considerable growth potential for radio,
particularly since newspapers and television still play only a
weak role here. Barely 25 newspapers are read by every one
thousand persons in South Asia, who also have to share 50
televisions among them.

Station director Murari Shivakoti has been quoted saying: "Radio
Sagarmatha's network of stations is aimed to inform, educate, and
entertain the target communities with programmes that help them
understand issues better and help them make informal choices in
their everyday lives."

Government-owned Nepal Television's board directors chairman Hem
Bahadur Bista himself told local journalists: "Mass media has so
far not been used in Nepal for the development purpose. Now the
day has come to use it as a tool for development." Community
radio, point out its promoters, offers great potential for two-
way communication. This could help reduce the gap between
decision-makers and the grassroots, it is argued. Consequently,
the people would have a greater say in decisions on community
development schemes. -- Third World Network Features


When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network
Features, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.

TWN-Features offers reproduction rights to subscribers of this
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Asia office for subscription details and charges. Contact C.
Martin at


Radio Sagarmatha, the Nepalese Community Broadcasting NGO

Broadcasting the writing on the wall
Nepal's shift to community radio

Bharat D. Koirala - Executive Director, Nepal Press Institute

It was eight years ago that Nepal initiated its first projects in
community communication. With help from UNICEF and administrative
support from the Agriculture Development Bank, the Nepal Press
Institute started South Asia's first "wall" newspaper for rural
readers. Editors and reporters were trained to use simple language,
print first-hand success stories, use a lot of pictures and graphics
including a comic strip, and large, bold type faces to enable groups
of people to read at the same time from walls of public buildings and
tea shops. Since then, not only has the concept of  the rural wall
newspaper spread in many Nepalese communities and other countries of
South Asia, but a number of other media-related projects are being
tried in areas where the urban-based mainstream media has not been
able to reach. Audio towers for public announcements, white boards for
news of the day, audio magazines for those who cannot read, and wall
newspapers for neo-literates are now routinely used in many
communities. The focus, however, has shifted from print media to radio

This new emphasis on radio, especially community radio, has been the
result of a number of factors: a predominantly oral rather than
written culture exemplified by the significant proportion of
illiteracy (around 40%) among the population, extreme rural poverty
that limits the sale of newspapers and scope of advertising, and rough
geographical terrain that makes distribution of newspapers very

The circulation of newspapers is limited to the urban centres where
they originate. Over 50% of the country's more than 1,200 titles are
printed in the capital, Kathmandu - a six-fold increase in Nepalese
newspapers since the democratization process began in 1990. Most of
these titles are one-person, small tabloid-style operations. Also,
Radio Nepal's programs, which broadcast on Medium Wave for 14 hours a
day, reach only a small section of the population - although the
station claims to cover 90%. Besides, Radio Nepal's programs, produced
centrally at the Kathmandu studio, are known to be of little interest
to the majority of the population which represents a vast cultural and
ethnic diversity. 

It was to address this public that the Nepal Press Institute decided
to decentralize its training structure and offer training
opportunities to rural communities four years ago. With Danish support
of about $700,000 US for a three-year project, NPI established two
Regional Media Centres, one in the eastern industrial town of
Biratnagar and the other in Nepalgunj, a trading post in mid-western
Nepal. The new training centres teach journalistic skills and promote
the use of new technologies in print and broadcasting media. The
centres are now considering the installation of FM radio stations
since both towns offer ample human and financial resources to sustain
operations. In the past year, both centres have offered 26 training
courses ranging from basic journalism to advanced courses on desktop
publishing and investigative reporting. One of the positive
consequences has been a growing interest in community broadcasting as
the appropriate medium for the culturally and linguistically diverse
country of Nepal. 

While designing courses for the upcoming year, NPI has not only taken
note of this growing interest in FM broadcasting but has selected
venues which are likely to become sites for community radio stations.
Like-minded institutions such as NPI, NEFEJ, Worldview and Himal, hope
that in the future there will be a network of small community-owned
and operated radio stations using broadcasting as an important tool in
social and economic development. 

The promoters of Radio Sagarmatha have fully realized that only
training will help them achieve the excellence needed to counterpoint
the better-endowed Radio Nepal. Over the past three years, Radio
Sagarmatha has run five training programs and trained over 50 radio
producers.  "While we waited for a license, we were able to utilize
the time to train people to operate a small radio station efficiently
and with a sense of service," says Raghu Mainali, manager of Radio

As a follow-up to these training programs, two of which were funded by
UNESCO, 17 young producers have received fellowships to improve their
skills and produce programs that can be used once the station starts
broadcasting. Radio Sagarmatha will assume the role of a training
centre for smaller community radio stations that are expected to
mushroom in the Nepalese countryside. 

Nepal Forum Of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ)
P.O.Box 5143, Theapathali, Kathmandu, Nepal
Telephone: 977-1-231991 or 230348
Fax: 977-1-2276961

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Radio Sagarmatha on air 
The Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists has finally obtained
a licence from the new government for their station, Radio
Sagarmatha. We received the following report from Kathmandu:
The minister handed over the licence formally at a function on June 1,
Sunday. I thanked him, lauded the positive attitude of the government,
requested for dropping the conditions from the licence etc. In his
remarks, he assured that the government will be sympathetic. The
extensive media coverage the next day on Radio Nepal, Nepal Television
and all the major newspapers has resulted in more people knowing about
the existence of the new station and the frequency. (I am sending you
some of the clippings from English newspapers.) The three-member
radio technical experts that we have hired are busy discussing what to do
to improve reception generally.. We are lucky that their advice in April
1996 to erect a pole of 14 metres instead of 7 metres as was originally
planned has proved to be a sound one. There would have been more
shadow zones, otherwise. One of them is advising us to have a reflector
behind the antenna elements so that most beams are directed towards the
crowdier east of the Valley, without significanly affecting the reception in
the west. We are considering it. Meantime, the sheer response from
listeners is overwhelming. We have held a series of meetings to discuss
the Radio Sagarmatha's programming, which has resulted in a more
refined programming grid for two hours. Some potential producers, to
form a core team at Radio Sagarmatha, have been identified, as have been
some potential external producers. Several well-known mediapersons,
working in the electronic or print media, have shown interest. Quality
educative, informative, interesting programmes, apropriately laced with
entertainment, is what we have in mind. The challenge is greater what
with the technical advantages that Radio Nepal's FM Kathmandu enjoys.
Musicians and singers are being approached for music. The response is