IMPROVING COMMUNICATION WITH CRISIS-AFFECTED COMMUNITIES
The majority of Nepalis still rely mainly on radio for information, news and entertainment.
Radio is particularly strong in the rural areas, where 83% of Nepalis live.
Television is now the preferred source of news and entertainment in urban households, although many people still listen regularly to the radio in towns and cities.
Kathmandu alone has 34 FM stations.
There are also 18 FM stations in the twin cities of Bhairahawa and Butwal, 14 in Nepalgunj, 11 in Pokhara and seven in Janakpur.
However, the listening habits of city dwellers are different to those of the rural population.
Most people in urban areas listen to radio during the day in their shops, work shops, cars and on their mobile phones. At night, they watch television at home.
In rural areas, people have fewer options.
The cable TV networks do not reach far into the countryside and many remote areas do not have electricity.
A survey conducted in 2006-2007 by the US-based media development organization Equal Access found that 82% of households owned radios, 95% had radios in their neighbourhood and about 44% of radio owners had radios that cost less than Rs. 500 (US$7).
A separate survey conducted by the BBC among 4,500 people in 2008 showed that 90% of the Nepali population listened to the radio regularly.
Most tuned in for two hours every day during the week, but they spent up to three hours per day listening to the radio at weekends and on public holidays.
But the same survey also showed that more than 80% of respondents watched television.
Another key finding was that 92% of respondents trusted the media more than any other institution in Nepal.
The availability of cheap Chinese radios costing less than US$1.50 has helped to make radio popular amongst the rural poor.
Increasingly, Nepalese are using their mobile phones to listen to the radio – particularly young people.
However, station loyalty for those tuning in by mobile phone is low. Urban listeners who have a choice of FM stations often switch frequencies several times in an hour. If a tune or programme comes on that a listener does not like, the usual reaction is to change station.
Radio stations broadcast mainly in Nepali, but some also carry news bulletins and programmes in other local languages.
State-owned Radio Nepal broadcasts nationwide on Short Wave, Medium Wave and FM. In addition, it runs 17 local FM stations across the country.
Radio Nepal broadcasts mainly in Nepali, but it also airs news bulletins in the following local and international languages: Avadhi, Bhojpuri, Doteli, English, Gurung, Hindi, Magar, Limbu, Magar, Kham Magar, Maithili, Newari, Rai Bantawa, Sherpa, Sanskrit, Tamang, Tharu East, Tharu West and Urdu.
The national audience of Radio Nepal has fallen sharply in recent years as listeners have switched to private radio stations.
The state broadcaster has been challenged at the national level by the Kathmandu-based private radio stations Kantipur FM and Image FM.
Both have built up networks of FM relay stations in the interior which give them a broad national reach.
Other Kathmandu-based broadcasters have achieved nationwide audiences by networking their programmes to local partner stations.
They distribute news and current affairs programming to partner stations in the interior and incorporate contributions from these partners into their own output.
The largest of these content sharing networks are the Ujyaalo 90 Network (UNN), Nepal FM, ABC Network and the Community Information Network (CIN) of the Association of Community Broadcasters (ACORAB).
The Ujyaalo 90 Network broadcasts news bulletins and other programmes by satellite to 45 partner radio stations across Nepal.
The network developed from a popular news radio station in Kathmandu of the same name.
The Ujyaalo 90 Network network claims that its partner stations reach 18 million listeners and cover 85% of Nepal’s land area.
The BBC Nepali Service produces 30 minutes of programmes daily from Sunday to Friday and 60 minutes of programmes on Saturdays.
These are fed by satellite to more than 150 relay partners across Nepal.
State-run Radio Nepal was founded in 1951 and had a monopoly of radio broadcasting for the next 46 years.
In 1995, as the movement for greater democracy was gaining strength in Nepal, the government issued new National Broadcasting Regulations.
For the first time these allowed the establishment of private FM radio stations.
In 1997, Radio Sagarmatha, a Kathmandu community station, became the first independent FM radio station to go on air.
Many others soon followed.
The number of FM stations on air increased dramatically from 2006 onwards following the end of the Maoist insurgency.
According to the Information Ministry, 398 radio stations had been licenced by mid-2011. However, the ministry said only 319 of these were operating regularly.
A detailed map of FM radio coverage of Nepal was produced by the US-based media development organization Equal Access in 2011.
An electronic version of the map is available on the Equal Access Nepal website: http://www.equalaccess.org/country-nepal.php. The FM coverage map can also be ordered in poster form direct from Equal Access.
The Equal Access map shows an absence of FM radio coverage in large areas of Western and Northwestern Nepal, but these areas are characterised by high mountains and sparse population.
The FM radio sector is still poorly planned and organized.
A report prepared by Ian Pringle and Brikram Subba for UNESCO in 2007 states: “There is technical congestion in the capital region and high redundancy of licensed services, even in some rural areas; there are major policy gaps and limited means to ensure accountability of broadcasters. The current system of regulation does little to promote a diversity of services or to ensure that broadcasters meet public needs or address national development priorities.”
FM stations are generally classified, unofficially, as either commercial or community radios.
The government does not categorise them in this way when granting licences, but the radio stations generally brand themselves as one or the other.
Stations that are owned by individuals or profit-seeking companies are deemed to be commercial.
Those that are owned and operated by non-profit making groups – such as professional associations and NGOs – describe themselves as community radios.
However, in terms of staffing and programming there is very little difference between them.
Most radio stations outside Kathmandu, both commercial and community, provide the same kind of service.
For example, Radio Kanchanjanga FM, a commercial station in Jhapa in eastern Nepal, airs a daily programme called Samabedana (‘Condolences’). This broadcasts news of people who have just died and plays songs to go with the mood.
The programme helps its listeners by giving family members rapid news of a relatives’ demise.
This information might otherwise take several days to reach them, delaying the performance of traditional funeral rites.
Most FM radio stations claim to be independent, but generally they subscribe to one political view or another.
Recently some FM stations have been started by religious groups.
Kathmandu now has a Hindu station, FM Adhyatma Jyoti (which describes its content as ‘spiritual‘), and a Christian station, Good News FM.
There is another Christian station, Grace FM, in Dhulikhel.
Many FM stations provide hourly news bulletins.
However, the quality of radio news is generally inferior to that of newspapers. Much of it is derived from what the newspapers have already reported.
Young people in cities and towns listen avidly to musical entertainment and phone-in programmes.
Young people in rural areas are also into radio dramas.
Housewives in rural areas are keen on soap operas and magazine shows, especially those broadcast in local languages.
Working class rural men, the educated elite and community leaders in both rural and urban areas, listen intensively to news and current affairs programming.
Most urban FM stations focus on entertainment programming. They play Nepali and Hindi songs and the presenters chat with telephone callers, interview celebrities and indulge in gossip.
However, some Kathmandu stations, such as Ujyaalo 90 Network and Nepal FM, specialise in news and current affairs.
Nepal has a large number of ‘listeners groups’.
Their members gather regularly to listen to particular radio programmes and discuss them afterwards. Most of the listeners’ groups are in rural areas.
Nepal has a huge number of radio listeners’ groups, mostly in rural areas. Their members gather regularly to listen to a specific programme and discuss it among themselves afterwards. Often they provide feedback to the broadcaster.
The Human Right Programme by produced by the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), a human rights group, and the Good Governance Programme by the anti-corruption NGO Pro Public each have over 5,000 listening groups.
Antenna Foundation Nepal’s Chhinophano programme has more than 3,500 listening groups and Saathi Sanga Manka Kura (Chatting With My Best Friend), produced by the US-based media development organization Equal Access, has over 1,000.
Until recently FM stations outside Kathmandu relied heavily on programmes produced by radio stations and production houses in the capital.
They included a lot of ‘social message programming’ funded by international donors.
However, radios outside the capital now produce much more of their own broadcast content themselves.
Most have their own local news and current affairs programmes. However, they still rely heavily on national and international news inputs from network partners in Kathmandu.
More and more issue-based social message programmes, such as talk-shows and dramas are being produced in the interior in local languages.
In the southeastern city of Janakpur and surrounding parts of the eastern and central Terai lowlands region, local language dramas in Maitheli, Tharu and Bhojpuri are very popular.
Some programmes produced in Kathmandu and syndicated to FM stations in the interior have become very popular at the national level.
- Sajha Sawal (Common Question) a talk show produced by the BBC.
- Katha Mitho Sarangi Ko (Sweet Stories of Sarangi) a drama series produced by the BBC.
- Naya Bato Naya Paila (New Path New Steps) a drama) produced by the Antenna Foundation Nepal.
- Mero Jindagi (My Life) a radio documentary series produced by the Antenna Foundation Nepal.
- Saathi Sanga Manka Kura (Chatting With My Best Friend) a magazine and chat show programme for youth produced by Equal Access.
- Hamro Nepal Ramro Nepal (Our Nepal, Good Nepal) a discussion and magazine programme produced by Ujyaalo 90 Network.
- Nepal Chautari, a phone-in show produced by Antenna Foundation Nepal and distributed by the Ujyaalo 90 Network.
In most districts, where several FM stations can be heard, it appears that all are equally listened to – there would not be one clear winner win terms of popularity.
However, no surveys have been done to definitively prove this.
In the Kathmandu valley, Kantipur FM is generally rated to be the most popular station. It attracts high advertising revenue.
Most FM stations depend on advertising for a large slice of their income.
Community radios also attract a lot of development and peace initiative funding from NGOs and aid agencies.
Some stations in rural areas are partly funded by local government.
Most local FM radio stations have 500 to 1,000 watt transmitters. Depending on the height of the mast and the nature of the surrounding terrain, these can cover an area of up to 40 km radius in normal conditions.
However, many smaller stations only have low-power transmitters of only 100 watts. These are only able to reach a few km from the transmission mast.
A few radio stations have larger and more powerful 2,000 watt transmitters.
The biggest of all is Kantipur FM's 10,000 watt transmitter in Bhedetar near the eastern city of Dharan.
Whatever the transmitter strength, Nepal’s mountainous terrain means that few local FM radio stations can be easily received outside their home district. Audiences therefore tend to be highly localised.
There are a number of associations and organisations which support local radio stations in Nepal.
- The Community Radio Support Center (CRSC) within the Nepal Federation of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ)
- The Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (ACORAB)
- The Broadcasters Association of Nepal (BAN)
- The Far Western FM Broadcasters’ Forum
- The Kathmandu Valley FM Broadcasters’ Forum
- The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
International NGOs such as Equal Access, Search for Common Ground, Internews, BBC Media Action and the Radio Netherlands Training Centre, also provide specialist programming, training, content development and technical support.