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Broadcasting in Nepal: Problems and Issues

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Binod Dhungel highlights the problems and issues facing Nepali broadcasting.

The broadcast media and democracy arrived Nepal at almost at the same time in 1951. Broadcasting began with the establishment of Radio Nepal on 2 April 1951 following the establishment of democracy on 19 February the same year. Nepal Television came into being 35 years later, in December 1985. Government monopoly in broadcasting continued for 47 years until the establishment of Radio Sagarmatha on 19 May 1997. Channel Nepal Television ended the 16-year monopoly of the Nepal Television in July 2001.

Nepali journalism suffered from both sides in Nepal's conflict that began in February 1996 and continued till April 2006. Both media rights and other fundamental freedoms were suspended in Nepal after 1 February 2005 following a royal takeover; this was a period of direct suppression on the media. The government had put a blanket ban on news on radio whereas television stations were allowed to have "news" but within acceptable limits leading to increased self-censorship, even after the censors had left the newsrooms. The journalists and media took to the streets to protest the controls that were eventually restored after a popular movement in April 2006.

The state of broadcasting in Nepal
The Interim Constitution 2007 has a provision to prevent the scrapping of the registration of media all. Earlier, such provision applied only to the print media. A high-level media commission formed to identify the problems of media in the new political context and recommend policy had made several recommendations for media in Nepal (see note1) some of which were followed up by the government.

One achievement is the amendment of the Working Journalists Act (WJA) and the enactment of the Right To Information (RTI) Act. Efforts for policy reforms for the development of media in the new context are still underway. One is a policy on Proportional Advertisement Policy (see note 2), which has recommended forming some bodies like Advertisement Authority, Monitoring Committee on Code of Advertising Ethics (as a quasi-judicial body) and Advertisement Council. Another is a report prepared by the government on cable television (See note 3) that recommended some ideas to be achieved through two ways: (1) existing laws, (2) amending the National Broadcasting Act and Regulation. The draft of the amendment is also prescribed in the report. There is also a draft of an information policy (2011) (see note 4).

The larger number of media houses that have been established in recent times show that media has become an attractive business in the new environment. According to data of the Ministry of Information and Communications 394 radios and 32 televisions were registered by August 2011. Of the 203 member radios of the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal (ACORAB), only five or six operate in Kathmandu Valley, others are providing services in the different remote areas of the country. Other independent radios are associated with Broadcasting Association of Nepal (BAN) and Kathmandu Valley FM Broadcasters Forum. According to Press Council Nepal, there were 3195 newspapers registered by the end of the fiscal year 2010/2011. Similarly, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) says there are four news agencies registered by the private sector. Rastriya Samachar Samiti is the government-owned news agency. There are also a number of institutions that produce digital content distributed on the Internet.

Among these media, some of them have started providing facilities to workers in accordance with the WJA. But professional insecurity is still an issue because the act has not been implemented fully. The physical attacks on the media workers and the media have yet to be controlled. Despite an order from the Supreme Court, the government has not yet appointed the press registrar for protecting many media rights, included those guaranteed by the WJA.

Problems and Issues
Policy: In the context of radio and television, there are problems with licensing, taxes, renewal, crisis of recognition (for example, radio journalists do not receive Press Accreditation Card or only a few of them get it), discrimination in information collection, difficulty in implementing the WJA, mission-oriented approaches as against professional and non-transparent investment. Foreign investment, monopoly in investment and distribution of all-time licenses are also the policy wise problems. The issue of foreign investment is not clearly address by the law. Growing media monopolies and cross-ownership of media are other issues. Another issue is the issuance of licenses for perpetuity - unlike term licenses in many other countries. There is a line of thinking that frequency being a public resource should not be given forever for the particular company/institution. Though we have a renewal system the government cannot revoke licenses according to the constitutional provision.

Professional development: Although there has been a quantitative growth in broadcasting, qualitative, professional and institutional development has not been satisfactory. Broadcasters have become the victim of limited market and their maximum growth in numbers. The frequency spectrum in Kathmandu is almost used up and cities like Pokhara, and Janakpur have as many as 18 and 9 radios, respectively. Biratnagar/Itahari, Butawal/Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj, Dang are some other examples of maximum radio presence. In general, district headquarters and small market places are also tuning their local FMs. The operational costs are high while the revenue generation has fallen, particularly after the power cuts of up to 14 hours in the winter months.

The broadcasters do not have adequate trained human resources, also in management and financial resources are difficult for some to meet basic operational costs, including that for infrastructures, and for essential equipment and repair and maintenance.

Identity and standards: The government treats the press and broadcast media in a discriminatory manner. Issues of differentiating radios as commercial, non-governmental organizations, cooperatives, educational institutions, local government etc. remains unresolved. Representative organizations of radio have held discussions to this effect with the government. The ministry has agreed on the proposal of the BAN and ACORAB to recognize them as they want to through policy and regulations differentiating public service broadcasting, community broadcasting and commercial broadcasting on the basis of their content and scope - national, federal and local. This remains to be done.

There is a feeling of discrimination between the media in the capital and those outside especially in terms of access to resources; there is also a similar feeling among the organizations with 'big budget' and 'small budgets'.

Effective monitoring and regulation: Implementation of journalists' code of conduct and media laws has been weak in the absence of effective media monitoring and regulation. The MoIC has been monitoring the radios and TVs whereas Press Council of Nepal monitors the print media and the code of conduct. Likewise, the Audit Committee of Circulation monitors and evaluates the printed materials and circulation of the print media and there is the Minimum Remuneration Fixation Committee to monitor the implementation of the minimum remuneration of the working journalists and media workers. Besides, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) has been monitoring the issues relating to press freedom and rights of the journalists. However, no work has been done to integrate and coordinate monitoring to make it effective.

There is concern that the government has ignored the initiatives taken by the stakeholders for drafting policies since 2007. Instead, the MoIC has initiated a draft that stakeholders oppose saying that they were not consulted. Further, like the print media many broadcasters also have links with political parties, and are often less concerned about the people's issues and serve the interests of the powerful.

Solutions
The State or the government
Professional Development
• Unified media laws and policies should be formulated. The disputes surfaced in drafting the policy should be resolved and serious homework be done.
• An autonomous broadcast authority should be constituted for the development and regulation of the broadcast sector.
• Media should be restructured and classified on the basis of the new structure of the country. They could be classified on the basis of their ownership, broadcasting areas/geography or the bases. On the basis ownership, they could be classified as cooperatives, educational, of local bodies and non-governmental or commercial organizations. On the basis of the broadcasting areas/geography, they could be classified as national, federal and local and on the basis of content they could be classified as public service, community and commercial broadcasting. The existing radios and TVs should be given the rights to choice while classifying them.
• The problem of the overlap/congestion of radio frequencies should immediately be resolved and it should be monitored regularly. It should be monitored whether the international law on frequency use is followed. Initiatives should be taken to make the neighboring countries fix their frequencies and capacity in a manner that it does not affect Nepali broadcasters, especially in the border regions
• Practice to open new broadcasters with a planned and committed scheme should be developed making it compulsory for them to present their financial, professional, production and operational management, human resource management plans and the plans on market research while issuing the licenses.
• Institutes to provide orientations or refresher training as well as to conduct study/research for the professional development of the media and media workers, or media academy should be set up and developed.

Press Freedom and Access to Information
• In order to ensure the development of broadcasting, the new constitution should guarantee the basic media freedom, right to information and freedom of opinion and expression.
• To make media voice of the concerns of the voiceless, there should be a requirement for the media to produce certain percentages of their programs focusing on the grassroots level people. A monitoring mechanism should also be developed to monitor the same.

Physical and Professional Security/Safety
• There should be a guarantee of physical security of media institutions and media workers.
• Media companies should mandatorily have life insurance policies for journalists.
• The rights of the workers of media as envisaged by the laws should be implemented.

Finance of Media
• There should be a clear legal provisions and policy on issues like foreign investment in media, transparency in investment and monopoly.
• National media should be promoted by recognizing them as industry and by providing them facilities enjoyed by other industries. Clean feed of ads of foreign broadcasters in Nepal could be an example in this regard.
• A clear and stable national advertisement policy should be developed with a provision of proportional distribution of government ads on the basis of fixed standard and access of audiences.
• The provision of double and triple taxes should be ended. The dispute between the government and the broadcasters on royalty is a result of such tax system. Tax should be exempted and facilities should be provided for Internet, power and telephone bills of media and media workers, and on the purchase of the vehicles and equipment.
• Facilities should be for equipment required to produce the power to operate the media and fuel until the load shedding comes to an end

Management
Professional development
• Broadcasters should be made pluralistic, transparent and inclusive to the possible extent not only in appointing the human resources but also in the materials and issues that they produce.
• Code of conduct for broadcasters should be prepared in the participation of the organizations and be implemented effectively.
• Focus should be given for the development of skilled and trained human resources for quality content.

Physical and Professional Security/Safety
• Broadcasters should be serious, aware and cautious for the financial, social, physical and professional security and security of all media employees.
• Broadcasters should implement the WJA and ensure editorial freedoms

Media Workers
Professional Development
• The workers should be active and capable by maintaining accuracy, objectivity, and honesty and in following the professional ethics.
• Priority should be given to conflict sensitive journalism, that promotes peace and progress and that excels in research and respective fields.
• Media workers should be responsible to the society, to be sensational.
• Media workers should focus on the qualitative development of the members of the organizations rather than on their quantitative growth.

Press Freedom and Access to Information
• Media workers should play active role individually and in organized form for the promotion of press freedom.
• Media workers should be aware about the editorial freedom and collectively aware against the sanctions on information, self-censorship, etc.

Physical and Professional Security/Safety
• The workers should be active for their professional safety and guarantee to their rights.
• Media workers should reject the work offers if the facilities they will be provided are not at par with the standard fixed in the WJA and other labor laws and they should be aware about the exploitation and violation of laws by the media houses.
• Media workers should always be aware of their own security.

Finance of Media
• A lawful path should be taken for collective bargaining following the proper labor practices.

National and International Support Community
Professional Development
• Need to provide financial and technical support to review the media related provisions of the constitution, act, regulations and policies and make their timely amendment.
• Besides making regular and institutional efforts for the development of human resources and their capacity building with priority to remote areas, they should help arrange occasional visits, training and workshops.
• Should co-work with and help the government and media or media related organizations only on the basis of their respect to democratic values like transparency, human rights, citizens' freedom, inclusiveness, rule of law, etc.
• Should provide support only on the basis of the managerial capability, condition of human resources, access of people and guarantee of proper utilization of such support.

Press Freedom and Access to Information
• Should keep pressurizing the state against any restriction on media freedoms.

Physical and Professional Security/Safety
• Should be support measures for the physical security and professional safety of the media and the media workers

Finance of the Media
• Should support the media with ads, information and financial capability building.
• Provide consultations as to how the media organizations could prevent themselves from crisis resulting from load-shedding or other similar problems, and also provide technical training to media houses.


Paper entitled "Broadcasting in Nepal: A Situation Paper" presented on February 24, 2012, to the International Fact Finding and Media Advocacy Mission to Nepal Dhungel is Nepal Correspondent of Reporters Sans Frontieres, and former central member of FNJ.


Notes


1 A government-formed commission led by the then lawmaker and senior lawyer Radheshyam Adhikari government had submitted the report in September 2006. See for the report at: http://www.moic.gov.np/reports /final_report_of-hlmac.pdf
2 See for the report of the taskforce at: http://www.moic.gov.np/reports/bigyapan_niti_2065.pdf
3 See for the report of the taskforce at: http://www.moic.gov.np/reports/cable_pratibedan_final.pdf
4 See for the Draft at: http://www.moic.gov.np/pdf/media-policy-eng-pdf

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