Reporters Without Borders slated an “appalling attempt to militarise the media landscape” as the army began test broadcasts on six FM stations to “counter Maoist propaganda” while police cut off the power at an independent FM radio.
“King Gyanendra’s decisions often clash in this way and show his reactionary and propagandist concept of the media,” said the organisation. “Since 1st February 2005 the king has been doing his best to drive independent news off the airwaves.”
On the evening of 7 March 2006, police successively cut the electricity and generator of independent radio, Annapurna FM in Pokhara, west of Kathmandu. King Gyanendra was present in the historic town when the decision was taken.
Programmes were only restored the following morning under pressure from civil society and police were forced to apologise.
“This act remains humiliating, arrogant and cowardly towards the independent media,” said Shivalal Malla, board member and president of the Broadcasting Association of Nepal (BAN). He is claiming damages.
Radio and TV operators in Nepal are always under threat of the application of a new ordinance from the broadcasting authority that could have disastrous consequences for the development and independence of privately-owned radio. The price of licences is due to be multiplied by 10 or 20 and the authority will have very wide powers over radio, cable TV and online media.
The FM stations set up by the royal army will be exempt from licensing and customs charges for importing radio equipment.
“I don’t know about this project. It is not yet up and running,” the army spokesperson said.
According to the Kathmandu Post, the army obtained ten licences from the information and communications ministry in June 2005, for FM stations to counter propaganda put out by Maoists, who have their own radio.
The army already broadcasts twice a week on Radio Nepal, as well as on a television programme on the national channel.
Elsewhere, the daily Upatyaka, which was suspended on 4 March 2006, reappeared three days later. However its editor, Jaya Prakash Gupta, is still being held at a Kathmandu police station.