KATHMANDU, Feb 14: At an Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Radio Taranga (107.6 Mhz), a Pokhara-based FM station, the auditor came across a bizarre bill. The bill had no client´s name on it. It just had a “buffalo” written in the space meant for mentioning the client´s name.
Amazed at the mention of “buffalo”, the auditor asked why the bill was not issued in the customer´s name. “It´s a bill of putting on air a notice about a missing buffalo,” explained the accountant. “We forgot to ask the customer´s name. And, we just mentioned buffalo in the bill.”
The accountant´s answer amused everyone present at the AGM.
This tale illustrates how radio has evolved as a means of communication in Nepal over the last six decades.
Originally used as a technology meant for appealing to people to join Nepal´s first democratic struggle in the 1950s, radio has now become a forum of social interaction at the local level. Apart from airing news and entertainment programs, most of the radio stations now offer forums for social dialogues, too.
In many districts, some radio stations, like Radio Taranga, broadcast information about missing of cattle -- something considered insignificant by the national media. They also put on air information regarding deaths and final rites of locals, irrespective of their social status. Notices of meetings of community forest users groups, mothers´ group and social clubs are also broadcast by radio stations.
“In villages, if someone dies, locals instantly gather in his house,” says Bhairab Aangla, a radio journalist with Sapta Koshi FM (90 Mhz). “They get information about their neighbors´ deaths through FM radios.”
Min Bahadur Shahi, Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, Nepal (ACORAB), says development of radio has played a key role in strengthening democracy and transforming society at the local level. “In many villages, radio is still the only source of information,” says Shahi. “People in rural villages are updated about current affairs through radios.”
The expansion of radio stations has also changed people´s lifestyle in many places. Gopal Guragain, founder of Communication Corner, a broadcasting organization that runs Kaya Kairan, a 30-minute program on current affairs, through more than 100 radio stations, says, “When we started broadcasting Kaya Kairan 10 years ago, residents of Butwal complained of having to get up early in the morning to listen to the radio. Now, they no longer complain. Listening to Kaya Kairan has become an integral part of their early morning routines.”
Even today, the largest chunk of population relies on radio for news and information. According to the census-2011, one in every two households possesses radio sets in Nepal, which is higher than the percentage of households with access to television and computer. Only 36 per cent households have television sets while the percentage of families having computers merely stands at seven.
According to Shahi, 360 radio stations -- 240 of them community-based -- are now in operation across the country. And, Guragain says almost all the districts have local radio stations. “Our own study shows 90-92 per cent of people have access to radio,” says Guragain.
The success of April Uprising-2006 that forced then king Gyanendra Shah to relinquish power has proved to be a watershed in development of radio stations. “Before the 2006 movement, we had just 56 radio stations,” says Guragain. “About 300 new radio stations have been set up since then.”
The government formed after the success of the 2006 movement had simplified the process of obtaining licenses for FM radios, which was seen as a reward returned in exchange for the role played by radios during the April Uprising.
“Even when king Gyanendra Shah´s government prohibited FM radios from airing news, we continued to broadcast news by acquiring a show cause notice from the Supreme Court (SC),” says Guragain. “All radio stations played songs that inspired people to join the movement. It was then that the political parties acknowledged the importance of radio, and their government made it easy to acquire radio licenses.”
Quality of news broadcast by radio stations is yet to improve, though. Guragain does not disagree. “People tend to invest in infrastructures and equipment,” says Guragain. “But, they don´t invest in human resources. This is why most radio stations are now being run by not-so-well trained journalists.”