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Radio Nepal Turned Sixty-six

Issue March 2017 From archive

Radio Nepal Turned Sixty-six

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Today Chaitra 20 (April 2, 2016), Radio Nepal turned 66. It had crossed 65 years of existence since it was set up on Chaitra 20, 2007 (1951) after Nepal ridded of the autocratic Rana family rule that terrorized the Nepalese for 104 years. During this not-so-long life of Radio Nepal, it had many ups and downs starting from becoming the democratic radio in 1950s to the mouthpiece of the Panchayat and its ringleader King Mahendra and then of his son Birendra from 1962 to 1990, then the mouthpiece of any party came to power after the fall of the Panchayat in 1990, and finally to becoming the radio of the sovereign Nepalese after the end of the 240-year Shah rule in 2008. Currently, Radio Nepal had been airing radio programs in 17 languages and news in 21 languages.


During the Rana period, Nepalese could not listen to radio not to mention possessing it. Anybody that managed to smuggle a radio in Nepal had to take a great risk not only to listen to it but also possessing it. They had to keep such smuggled radio in a sound proof room to which only a few selected people had access. People were afraid of even walls having ears. That had been the Rana rule.


During the 240 years of their rule, the Shah-Rana rulers tried to kill all other national languages forcibly imposing the ‘khas’ language on all Nepalese that did not speak it, and prohibiting them to speak their languages for saying anything publicly. That was the caustic beauty of the Shah-Rana rule.


During the Shah-Rana rule particularly the absolute Rana rule, the Rana family did not promote songs and culture in other languages of the people and also even in the ‘Khas’ language, which they called Nepali in later years. Ranas loved Hindi songs, Hindi classical music, and promoted dramas in Hindi. They built European style palaces for them. They had no love for anything Nepalese.


In this background, Radio Nepal was born after Nepal became the democratic country in 1951. It tried to be inclusive radio airing news and programs in the languages other than Nepali profoundly reviving the languages that had been suppressed for more than two centuries.


As Nepal became the democratic country, and democracy meant the rule of the sovereign people, Nepalese of all nationalists started off developing their culture and languages spontaneously awakening from the hibernation they had gone for more than two centuries of the despotic Shah-Rana rulers. Radio Nepal became instrumental in developing languages and culture of all Nepalese. Significantly and visibly, it contributed to the development of songs in Nepali and other languages, too. It had created a number of radio artists, Nepalese-song singers, and radio reporters and so on.


Then, on December 15, 1960, the repressive king Mahendra grabbed the microphone of the Radio Nepal and declared that he had taken over from the democratically elected government. That was the end of not only other democratic activities of the common folks but also of the Radio Nepal. It became the Radio of the king not even of Nepal not to mention the Nepalese people. Nepal went back to the politically and economically the pre-1951 status. Mahendra pushed the common folks in general and the Radio Nepal in particular, to the backward making it as his private property.


Then, Nepalese could listen to the Radio Nepal airing only the news, views, songs, and other entertaining programs in praise of Mahendra, his queen and his sycophants. The king guided Nepalese to only one direction, and tried to blind Nepalese with the reality of the politics and economics making the Radio Nepal his propaganda machine. Gradually, Radio Nepal stopped news and programs in other languages, and totally stopped by early 1970 before Mahendra died allegedly from the heart attack while he was in Chitwan for the rest and recuperation.


Radio Nepal aired live the birthday of Mahendra and his queen lavishly, and then of course his son Birendra after the untimely death of Mahendra in early 1970s. Nepalese could listen to the Radio Nepal only to hear the praises of Mahendra and then Birendra not proportional to the reality of what they actually were. They were labeled as live Lord Vishnu. Thus, the radio became another instrument for the glorification of the king and his royal family at the expense of the taxpayers’ money. Mahendra and Birendra had everything what common Nepalese lost.


Radio Nepal became almost like the private property of the reigning king run by the taxpayers’ money. The king not only made the Radio Nepal as his private asset but also as the instrument to propagate the panchayat system he introduced in 1962 until its death in 1990. To mark the Poush 1 (December 15, 1960): the day king Mahendra with his brazen action choked democracy, Radio Nepal went on the air uninterruptedly with the programs on celebration of this day that had been black day for all democracy loving people every year for 30 years.


Radio Nepal became practically the Radio Panchayat. It had nothing but to cover the activities of the panchas meant the followers of this system. The instigator of panchayat: king Mahendra widely used Radio Nepal to spread the validity of this system among the common folks, and tried to prove the legality of the panchayat. Radio Nepal had to say even all Nepalese were panchas and all panchas were Nepalese, nobody in between.


The king and his panchas made the Radio Nepal to air the news and the views and the songs, dramas and other programs made on any subject were in praise of the king and his panchayat system. Anybody could tune in the Radio Nepal only to listen to the songs in praise of the king or the panchayat, which had been synonymous with the corruption. Radio Nepal became the powerful media for the king and the panchas to air their news and views nothing else.


No matter what the king and the Panchas did during the 30 years of the existence of the panchayat system, the time had come for the panchayat to die and the king had to live within the four walls of his palace under the surveillance of the elected prime minister after the panchayat came down crashing under the people’s pressure in 1990.


Suddenly, Radio Nepal found it free from the shackles of the news, views and program on the activities done in praise of the king and the panchas. However, it was not so free as it needed to be because of the new elected rulers wanted to use it for their benefits. It was something like the old boss replaced with the new one. Nothing drastically changed.


At the same time, the locals and the foreigners, too with their democratic mindsets wanted to have private radios as many as possible. However, the new elected rulers particularly the Nepali Congress (NC) leaders, who had the feelings of taking over from the king and his panchas, also had the feeling of enjoying the power for themselves rather than for doing something for the common folks. They had proved that they were power junkies nothing more. So, the NC leaders resisted giving a permit to the private companies for running FM radios. They wanted to continue the monopoly on the public information through the State-run Radio Nepal.


Finally, the elected government had to bow down to the tremendous public pressure on opening a number of private radios. Today, every district had more than one FM radios. Common folks had the choice of listening to any radio of their choice. News and views flooded on the air even though the credibility of the news had been sometimes questionable. So, Radio Nepal remained the main credible provider of news and views.


Even after Nepal ended the autocratic rule and the rule of panchas, Radio Nepal had to live under the shadow of the party leaders elected to govern the country.  The ruling party leaders appointed persons to the chairperson, and board members of the Radio Nepal following the loyalty to the party rather than their merits for running the audio media efficiently. Consequently, Radio Nepal could not break down the bond of obedience and loyalty to the governing political party.


The obedience and loyalty to the governing political party, Radio Nepal had to abide by had been even severe when the CPN-UML took over after the general election in 1994. The communist rulers made Radio Nepal as their party mouthpiece. The poor Radio Nepal had been the puppet of the government whoever came to power. For the Radio Nepal and for the listeners, too, that was certainly a tragedy.


The grip on Radio Nepal was loosen to some extent after the NC came to power the second time in 1995 but it was not entirely free, as the Radio Nepal needed to be compliance with the wishes or orders of the governing party politicians. The staff of the Radio Nepal had to air programs with the party line in tow. However, some bold staffers could take another party line. Some staffers did so defying the order of the governing party politicians.


The worst possible thing happened to Radio Nepal was when Gyanendra took over after his elder brother king Birendra was mercilessly killed in the palace massacre on June 1, 2001. After the death of his brother Birendra, and the nephew Dipendra declared king in coma, Gyanendra became the freak king following the ancient rituals of making a king in 2001. He thought that the country was the private property earned by his ancestors, and he publicly declared it in one of his public speeches. So, he could not think of Radio Nepal being different from his private company.


Again Radio Nepal had to follow the whims and wishes of the king that thought he was above the law. Not only Gyanendra put himself above the law but also his sycophants, too. Radio Nepal became the propaganda machine of Gyanendra. Again all the news and programs of Radio Nepal had been on praising Gyanendra and his deeds no matter whether those were true or false.


Finally, Radio Nepal became the radio of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in 2008. Radio Nepal was born under the government of Nepal in 1951. Then, Mahendra made it his government and called it His Majesty’s Government of Nepal in 1961. Then, Nepalese called their government again the government of Nepal, as Nepal had no more any majesty since 2008.


Now, Radio Nepal had only the sovereign Nepalese as the masters and owners of it. So, it had served the Nepalese with their interest not anybody’s. Radio Nepal had been an independent entity but it had to be an autonomous body so that it would not need to sing the songs in praise of the minister for information and communication, and the secretary to the ministry that presided over the Radio Nepal board. The staff of the Radio Nepal needed to preside over the Radio Nepal board not anybody outside of it, and run the Radio Nepal independently in the interest of the common Nepalese.


Radio Nepal had been running programs on various activities in 17 languages, and airing news in 21 languages. It is the example of how a radio to be inclusive of so many different people in the national building. It must have a tremendous impact on the socio-cultural development of the people speaking all those languages, as they could learn many things from the radio programs and news in their languages. It also encouraged them to listen to the Radio Nepal making the radio so much well known among the people. Every Nepali becomes happy to listen to the Radio Nepal airing news and views and other programs in their mother tongues. “Wishing happy anniversary to the Radio Nepal and all the staff working for it”.


April 3, 2016

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