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Nepal 21 April 2005

Supreme court asks government to explain FM radio censorship

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed yesterday’s ruling by Nepal’s supreme court ordering the authorities to explain a 2 February directive banning FM radio stations from broadcasting news. The order was issued in response to a writ petition filed the day before by radio journalist Binod Dhungel, member of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) challenging the directive.

The press freedom organization said it hailed this courageous initiative and urged the Kathmandu government to respond to the court’s decision by definitively lifting the ban.

In yesterday’s initial hearing, lawyer Dinesh Tripathi explained the unconstitutionality of the directive issued by the information and communication ministry after King Gyanendra assumed full powers on 1 February. It banned Nepal’s FM radio stations from broadcasting news and discussion programmes for six months and permitted only entertainment programmes. Only the government-run Radio Nepal is exempt.

Supreme court judge Arjun Kumar Singh ordered the government to send the defence attorney to the next hearing, scheduled for 25 April.

The plaintiffs argued that censorship is contrary to the letters and the spirit of the constitution and that the directive violates the 1992 National Broadcasting Act and the 1994 National Broadcasting Regulation. Dhungel said it also violates fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.

Reporters Without Borders notes that the ban has had a catastrophic impact on the right of the Nepalese public to be informed. More than 50 radio stations have been affect and hundreds of journalists have been laid off.

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