Reporters Without Borders hailed a Nepalese supreme court ruling today ordering the government, in particular the information and communication ministry, to suspend any legal or administrative procedures against a privately-owned radio station, Nepal FM 91.8, pending a final judgment in the case.
Supreme court justice Anupraj Sharma said the threat of withdrawal of a radio station’s licence would have a regrettable impact on the public’s right to be informed. The court also asked the government to provide a written explanation of its reasons for moving against the Kathmandu-based radio station.
"This is a historic day in the fight against the censorship of radio news imposed by King Gyanendra," Reporters Without Borders said, stressing that the judge’s ruling upheld the right of Nepal’s FM radio stations to broadcast news programmes.
Nepal FM 91.8’s staff said they were more determined than ever to broadcast news. "All FM radio stations must now resume broadcasting their news bulletins in order to defy the government’s dictatorial orders,"one of Nepal FM 91.8’s journalists said.
Several radio stations - including Radio Bheri in Surkhet, Radio Swargadwari in Dank and Synergy FM in Chitawan - did in fact do this in the immediate aftermath of the court’s decision.
Today’s ruling was the result of a petition filed with the court by Nepal FM 91.8’s manager on 8 August asking it to block an information ministry decision to close the station down within seven days if it did not stop broadcasting news.
Radio station threatened with closure for broadcasting news
Declaring its full support for the management and journalists of the Kathmandu-based radio station Nepal FM 91.8, Reporters Without Borders today called on the Nepalese government to immediately withdraw its threat to close the station unless its stops broadcasting news.
"The government is persisting in an arbitrary and unconstitutional policy of banning radio stations from carrying news," the press freedom organisation said. "Nepal FM 91.8 must be allowed to continue to broadcast all kinds of news, even political. The main victims of this censorship are the inhabitants of the valley of Kathmandu, who now have to choose between the governmental radio propaganda and the Maoist radio propaganda."
The threat to close Nepal FM 91.8 was made in a letter to the station’s management today from the information and communication ministry, which mentioned Rajdhani Khabar (News of the Capital), a programme produced by journalist Binod Dhungel, and reminded the station that information on the air must be limited to "entertainment."
Giving the station one week to comply, the letter said the ministry had already initiated an internal procedure that would result in the suspension of its licence.
Nepal FM 91.8’s journalists said they would continue to broadcast news. "The army will have to come and arrest us and close the station to make us stop," a programme presenter told Reporters Without Borders. Station director Bishnu Hari Dhakal condemned the government measure as "illegal."
Nepal FM 91.8 resumed news broadcasts on 7 July in defiance of the arbitrary ban imposed by King Gyanendra on 1 February, preventing commercial and community radio stations from reporting the news to their listeners. Several other stations, such as those in Pokhara, have also resumed news broadcasts but have stayed away from political news and news about the Maoist rebels.
A Reporters Without Borders representative participating in an international press freedom delegation to Nepal visited Nepal FM 91.8’s studios in Kathmandu in July. The international organisations voiced strong support for the courageous stand taken by the station’s management and staff.