A small FM radio station, powered by unreliable electricity and run by a dozen staffs who face daily challenge of providing balanced news, has brought information revolution in one of the most remote parts of Nepal.
By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
Staffs of Radio Karnali FM 105 timko 2 MHz in their office building in Bijaynagar, Jumla. Pics by Wagle
Bijaynagar (Jumla)– “There is a saying in Jumla,” started Prakash Chandra Khatri. “People here came to know of the 1950 revolution in 1951 (saat saal ko kranti bare aath saalma thaha bhayo). The success of the 1990 movement was also known a day later. But people got to know of the April Movement live as it progressed.” Thanks to 105 “timko” 2 MHz, this remote area of mid west Nepal is witnessing a revolution in information in the past few years. A local campus teacher, a young student (transmitting the local news all over the globe), an ex-representative of the people distressed by politics and a bearded Gazal writer are some of the members of “Radio Karnali” who prepare news and programs people living in one of the most remotest part in Nepal. Theirs is a daily struggle to provide balanced news on a station that’s marred by unreliable electricity.
“It’s a difficult task to balance news,” Hari Bahadur Dangi said in a recent evening when he was at leisure because of the power failure in the town. “Some ask why you mentioned this in the news while others complain why you didn’t.” Hari Bahadur doesn’t have a background to produce balanced news but he claims to practice unbiased journalism and wants to build a career out of it. The 35-year-old was elected as the Chairperson of Lamra V.D.C, as a candidate of Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party, in the second local elections. His reason for joining journalism? Though politics is “interesting”, he said, there is was environment to practice it during the time of conflict.
“There was no environment to practice politics during conflict,” he continued. “The people always complained about us, called us thieves and looters. And even if the party had wronged we had to say it was right.” Nevertheless he stated that he was not giving up his political belief despite giving up active politics and made sure it did not reflect in his journalism practice either. “The party doesn’t matter as I have taken up journalism,” he said. “But the belief stays back. I have never faced any complain about being politically biased in my news. There is no political debate in the newsroom.” Having clarified his stance he went on to analyze the pros and cons of journalism. “There is no money in journalism,” he said. “We have to labour day and night, work so hard. Yet it is only a matter of satisfaction. But journalism has a bright future.”
If journalism does have a bright future then it will be Haridevi Rokaya (left)who will be the happiest. An I.Com second year student of Jumla Multiple Campus, Haridevi went on air immediately after passing her SLC exams. In recent months she has been dispatching news to the BBC Nepali Service which has brought popularity to the 19 year old. “Our Haridevi said,” said a proud old man I met in Khalanga Bazaar mentioning about a recent report on BBC Nepali Service by the girl. Haridevi enjoys her profession and rushes to the office on finding any item for the news. “The FM won’t go on air today,” she said one evening indicating the electricity failure as she was rushing towards the station with a press release of a political party in her hand. “But I need to prepare news for tomorrow morning’s transmission.”
The young lady had taken a basic training on broadcasting in Nepalgunj before joining the radio. She also attended a workshop organized by the BBC Nepali Service to their reporters a few months back. Haridevi said she has no plans to enter any other field leaving journalism. “We get to travel to new places and meet new people,” she said about the profession. What is the difference in between working for a local radio station and BBC? I wanted to know. “The issues are the same,” the BBC girl of Jumla said speaking of the news content and presentation. “It is the same voice. The only difference is BBC broadcasts issues of national and mass interest.” For instance, her reports on opening of the Karnali Highway last Chaitra and efforts of local women to control alcohol consumption were broadcasted on the BBC Nepali.
The news of local importance not broadcasted in BBC gets airtime in the local FM station. In the total six hours of broadcast everyday the radio other than presenting the latest news broadcasts programs that aim to teach the listeners ways to grow potatoes, remain healthy and even look beautiful/handsome. The FM can be heard in about 30 nearby villages. Now and then listeners send reports about family disputes and sometimes the radio report provides relief to the ones facing problems. A 13-year-old orphaned girl who earned her living by grazing cows in Badki village broke her leg. The news when broadcasted by the “timko” (local slang for ‘point’ or ‘dot’) a kind hearted man named Ram Nagarkoti took her to Nepalgunj for treatment.
The FM, established three years ago with the help of a local NGO, has not been able to earn enough to sustain and provide salaries to its twelve member staff. The Station Manager, Prakash Chandra, said that it was hard to get advertisements from offices and institutions in a place where radio culture has not yet flourished. Some local NGOs have sponsored a few programs but due to the unreliable electricity in Jumla they are not able to make it an effective broadcast. “We invite people for studio interviews and the power goes off,” said Prakash Chandra. “Many people request us to increase the hours of transmission. We have no capacity to purchase solar panels to generate power.” His forehead crumpled with despair when he said that but a grin spread across his face as he talked of the April Movement (2005) when the station broadcasted live news with the help of a generator. “Information prevailed through the radio in a village where no political leaders could ever reach,” he said. “People here came to know of the each and every developments of revolution in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal because of the radio. Because of the radio, there was a revolution here too.”
It is an altogether different story of Information Revolution indeed!
(Nepali version of this article appeared in yesterday’s Kantipur.)