The nature of Government in Nepal has raised a lot of doubts about Nepal's democratic future. The commitment to democracy is questionable given the Media Ordinance of Oct 9 2005. The ordinance imposes heavy restrictions on independent media. This includes banning of publication of materials which could be ‘helpful to terrorists', increasing the fine on publishers and editors and banning of news broadcasts through FM stations. Amendments were made to Nepal's Radio Act, Press and Publication Act and National Broadcasting Act. A mainstream media news report on the Government's perspective can be read here.
Kantipur FM is Nepal's first independent radio station. FM Radio has been an important part of Nepal‘s mediascape. Since the royal takeover in February 2005, news broadcasts by FM stations have been banned in Nepal. On 21 Oct 2005, there was a ‘visit’ by the Government officials to the FM Station. Democracy for Nepal says
The assault on Kantipur FM premises is a window into what is about to happen. The regime is preparing for a showdown. The clouds are gathering. They first made an illegal visit. Then they made an illegal request. When the Kantipur FM people did not comply, they sent the police to gherao the premises. Finally they backed down.
United We Blog! has an excellent photo-essay on the events of the night. According to their account
Around three dozens policemen who arrived in four vans forcefully entered the building of Kantipur FM premises at around 11:15pm and took away eight servers and all the equipment needed to uplink to satellite for airing programs…
The comment space for that post is brimming with ideas and arguments. There are strong views that the ordinance is contradictory to the constitution of Nepal. Kantipur FM moved the Supreme Court of Nepal. The media community appears to have united for this cause. However, the Government has issued an ultimatum to the radio station on 26 Oct 2005 according to Legal News from Nepal.
In what looks like a desperate final assault against Kantipur FM radio station, the government Wednesday gave a 24-hour ultimatum to the station to cancel its operating license… The government has said it has given the FM a “chance” to furnish written clarification within 24 hours mentioning reasons, if any, along with the necessary proof establishing the reasons, as to why the station's license should not be cancelled… The Ministry has said that it will cancel the FM's license if it is not satisfied with the clarification or if no clarification is furnished within the 24-hour deadline.
The future of Kantipur FM is shaky. While the petition has been registered in the Supreme Court, the court has not yet issued a stay order and developments are expected on 30 Oct 2005. It is incredible that an ordinance that affects Main Stream Media, is being defended by blogs and the protest has found an online audience. The restricitions on Media in Nepal are likely to impact democratic processes like elections and legislation. And the assault on Kantipur FM is not an isolated event, but part of a larger design to control media and freedom of expression. In an email exchange with Dinesh Wagle, I was told that
Govt. wants to eliminate Kantipur Group since it is the major force that is criticizing the regime. Kantipur Publications (Kantipur newspaper-most influential, the Kathmandu Post, and FM + Kantipur TV). The other two independent big media houses are APKA (publisher of the Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post- nepali daily), and Himal Media (publisher of Himal Magazine and Nepali Times Weekly). Other broad sheet papers have gone to the royalist fold taking money via the govt.'s One Window Advertisement policy.
In solidarity, agitating political parties backing Kantipur FM have called for a strike on the 28 Oct 2005. We will have more on this issue as events unfold.
Update – The Supreme Court issued a stay order on 26 Oct 2005 with respect to the Kantipur FM station case. However the fight is still on. The bigger issue of the Media Ordinance is still in Court. The hearing on Media Ordinance will start from Sunday. A common perception in Nepal is that the courts are influenced by the Royal Palace. (Thanks to Dinesh Wagle for the update.)