Reporters Without Borders today called on the international community, especially the United Nations, to persuade the government to rethink its plans to create a Broadcasting Authority with broad powers over radio stations, cable TV and online media, and to increase the cost of a radio broadcasting licence by at least 10 or 20 times.
The proposed ordinance could have "disastrous consequences" for the development of independent radio broadcasting in Nepal, the press freedom organisation said.
"After trying to silence FM radio stations by force, the authorities are now trying to suppress the right to broadcast news and information by creating an entity under its political control and by means of exorbitant licence fees," Reporters Without Borders said.
"It is deplorable that the Nepali government is attempting to introduce repressive legislation disguised as regulatory measures for the media sector just a few days before the first anniversary of the coup it staged on 1 February 2005," the organisation added.
The information ministry sent a letter to Nepalese FM radio station managers summoning them to a meeting on 19 January to discuss a proposed Broadcasting Authority and the ordinance under which the new authority will created. The letter did not however include a copy of the proposed ordinance.
In an initial draft seen by some journalists, the price of a broadcasting licence has been increased 20- or 40-fold. The fee for a 50-watt transmitter goes up from 25,000 to 1 million Nepalese rupees (from 290 to 11,710 euros). For transmitters of more than 1,000 watts, the fee rises from 500,000 to 10 million rupees (from 5,850 to 117,100 euros). As the annual renewal charge is 10 per cent of the initial fee, it will also rise dramatically. Several radio station owners told Reporters Without Borders they were not sure they would be able to afford the next renewal fee.
Three organisations representing radio station owners and journalists issued a warning about the "motives behind this decision to prepare a new ordinance on the part of a government which has tried by all means to control independent radio stations." They also criticised the fact that media representatives would be in the minority in the proposed Broadcasting Authority and that its president would be a senior information ministry official.