Nepal Army’s plan to run FM radio triggers debateThe Nepal Army’s plans to run FM radios, as it began test transmission in Dipayal recently, has triggered a debate whether the national defence force should act as a broadcaster in a democracy.
The Nepal Army’s plans to run FM radios, as it began test transmission in Dipayal recently, has triggered a debate whether the national defence force should act as a broadcaster in a democracy.
The Army received permission from the Ministry of Information and Communications to operate FM radios in each province last year.
Civil rights campaigners say such a move is against the spirit of democracy and civilian control of the security forces. Even the government should not ideally own the media so why does the Army need separate radio stations, they question.
Shiva Gaule, who heads the Center for Investigative Journalism that has published some investigative reports on the Army, said if the NA runs its own radio station it means it has no faith in other broadcasters licensed by the state. If the security agencies start running radios, this will create a crisis of confidence among the stakeholders.
Information Ministry Spokesman Ram Chandra Dhakal argued that security agencies can run FM radios as the Nepal Police runs the Metro FM to broadcast traffic-related programmes.
NA Spokesman Brig Gen Jhankar Bahadur Kadayat said the Army, in times of peace, needs to disseminate information related to its activities. “It has no motive other than highlighting the activities of the Army,” he said.
The NA said that “objectives of the radio stations are only to inform the people about various activities of the Nepal Army and to make the public aware of its functions and activities.”
According to ministry Spokesman Dhakal, the Army while applying for permission to run the FM stations stated that “these stations will be used for disseminating information on activities related to disaster management”. He reasoned that the Army cannot approach a private FM every time it needs to disseminate some information.
At the height of the insurgency, the Army had devised a plan to set up five FM stations under each command division to quell the Maoist propaganda. The idea was dropped later due to protests and some internal reasons.
“The new plan is continuation of the old one to set up FM stations that are not profit-making,” said Spokesman Kadayat. The Dipayal-based FM station has already started its test transmission while others would go on air as soon as resources are managed, according to him.
The Army also builds roads, runs a mineral water plant, medical college and a party venue. The NA argues that armies in other democracies also run radios for informative programmes.
For instance, in Pakistan the army runs FM radio and has businesses like banking, sugar mills, fertiliser manufacturing and construction.