The members of the newly elected Constituent Assembly were sworn in on Tuesday in Nepal. Again, several small bombs went off in Kathmandu, possibly planted by Royalists who want the king to stay. For the Assembly, in which the former Maoist rebels are the strongest force, is widely expected to abolish the monarchy on Wednesday. The Nepalese media have played an important role in bringing about these revolutionary changes.
No place for the king in the new democracy?
Media – that means radio, for all practical purposes, in Nepal. Newspapers and television may have their audience and impact, but in a country where many villages are cut off from the road network and where the electricity supply is erratic at best, most people rely on cheap transistor radios that can be run on batteries for information.
More than 150 local commercial FM channels operate in Nepal. According to the media activist Vinay Kumar Kasaju, they have played a crucial role in the last few months: „People are giving credit to the media and particularly radio stations for the free elections!” The radio stations encouraged people to vote. And their widespread network of election monitors and correspondents, many observers agree, discouraged politicians from rigging the results.
South Asia's first community radio station
Radio Sagarmatha is one such FM channel. It is based in Patan near Kathmandu and got a licence as the first independent community radio station in the whole South Asian subcontinent in 1997. Their success story has been a continuous struggle with the governments of the day.
Radio Sagarmatha’s station manager Ghama Raj Luitel remembers how they first started a regular news bulletin – but under a different name, as broadcasting news was forbidden… „In Nepali, there is one word ‘haalchaal’, it means ‘the activities’, a kind of account of ‘daily events’", says Luitel. This expression they then used as a synonym for news: "And we started to broadcast our news bulletin! And the government asked us: ‘Why do you broadcast news?’ Then we answered: ‘It was not news, it was just an account of daily activities!’”
Educating the lawmakers
Being a "community station" means that Radio Sagarmatha is non-commercial and run by an NGO. And that it is trying to shape the process of social and political change in Nepal. Ghama Raj Luitel explains:
„This time, so many representatives have come from different marginalized groups. So many communities: Barbers also have their own representatives this time, and farmers’ representatives are here, and women’s representatives are here in the Constituent Assembly. But they don’t have an idea how to raise their issues and how to give their input in the process of making the new constitution. So our role is to educate those Constituent Assembly members, too!”
For the time being, though, Ghama Raj Luitel is more concerned with the special transmission about the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly. On Wednesday, Radio Sagarmatha will broadcast live, of course, as the assembly will declare the country a republic, he says: "Because the government has decided to declare three days of holidays from tomorrow to celebrate the republic, so in many parts of the country tomorrow people will come on the roads. We’ll cover all these events.”
The controversial issues ahead of the Constituent Assembly such as federalism will certainly come up again next week.