Frederick Noronha on Sat, 22 May 1999 09:09:16 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> South Asia's first community radio station....

In a sub-continent where governments have long kept a 
stranglehold on radio, community radio could have an extensive 
impact. Radio Sagarmatha is an exciting development from Nepal. 
Momentum is also picking up elsewhere in South Asia, as citizens 
groups are pressing forward for permissions to broadcast from 
community radio stations. 

By Frederick Noronha

New brooms, they say, sweep clean. That's just what a young 
community radio station launched in Nepal intends to do by 
launching a campaign to clean up the air of Kathmandu Valley.

Radio Sagarmatha launched an initiative called Safa Radio -- The 
Clean Air Campaign in early January this year. Radio Sagarmatha, 
licensed in 1997, is South Asia's first independent community-
based broadcaster. On the airwaves, Radio Sagarmatha presents a 
daily mix of music and spoken word programming, a human package 
of information, entertainment and education. 

Radio Sagarmatha is a project of NEFEJ, the Nepal Forum of 
Environmental Journalists, in collaboration with three other 
Nepali non-governmental organisations, and the development agency 
of the Danish government, Danida.

Air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley is becoming worse and worse 
day by day. Sooty toxic smoke spews from exhaust pipes of a mind-
boggling array of vehicles racing around the capital's streets. 

Five days a week, Radio Safas DANIDA-financed safa (Nepali for 
clean) tempo -- a van-sized three-wheeled electric vehicle that 
carries a half dozen or more people -- measures the level of air 
pollutants at different points in the city. 

Results are analysed in a lab, then explained the same day during 
the stations evening community news bulletin, Haalchaal. 

Some 30 locations are monitored on a rotating basis. Following 
five days of readings and broadcasts, the cumulative results are 
discussed on-the-air. Monthly results are presented to the media 
and the public in a press conference.
"Safa Radio is an example of how a community can not only present 
news and issues for discussion, but also take a leading role in 
tackling problems, take to the streets and work in the 
community," said Ian Pringle of Centre for International Studies 
and Cooperation which is a Canadian not-for-profit organisation 
that brings Canadian professionals to work with local groups like 
Radio Sagarmatha.

Playing on the pun, Sagarmatha's supporters say this radio 
station sitting atop the Himalayan country represents a 
"himalayan opportunity for public interest communications and 
development in the subcontinent".  

Taking the radio out of the station into the communities that the 
majority of Nepalis live in has been the chief objective of Radio 
Sagarmatha. This station is thus seen as a starting point for a 
wider programme in community-based radio in Nepal. "The idea is 
not to extend Radio Sagarmatha's Kathmandu service, but rather to 
bring the idea of local radio to some of Nepal's 90% who live in 
rural areas and small communities," said a spokesperson for the 

In November 1998, to the surprise of many, tired out by the 
earlier five year struggle to get a license, Radio Sagarmatha 
received permission to run a mobile radio service anywhere in 
Nepal using its Kathmandu frequency, 102.4 FM.  

Shortly, Radio Sagarmatha, in partnership with MS Nepal (Denmark) 
will outfit a vehicle with a small studio and transmitter and hit 
the road. By keeping it simple, doing basic training and getting 
locals involved, Sagarmatha Mobile Radio will work to demystify 
radio and get communities interested in starting their own local 
radios. For most people have never been exposed to radio other 
than national and international services, not a type of radio 
they do for themselves.

Nepal has a long and powerful tradition of oral folk media. As 
recently as fifty years ago, the main sources of news for many 
communities were roaming artists who sang specially composed 
songs to highlight different issues. Radio Sagarmatha has 
introduced a daily radio serial which explores these cultural 

It has also announced plans to grow. In October of 1998, the 
station made the jump from a two-hour to a six-hour daily 
programme service. A month later, permission came for a twenty-
four hour service and approval was given to run a mobile service. 

Communities in other parts of Nepal are thinking about their own 
local stations.

The government has granted independent FM licenses to four 
commercial broadcasters and to the Kathmandu Metropolitan body, 
bringing the total number of licensed FM frequencies emanating 
from the Kathmandu Valley to eight. 

Within five years it is conceivable that Nepal will have a 
network of local stations in as many as a dozen communities 
throughout the country.

This year, Radio Sagarmatha plans new initiatives and programme 
formats. Including new programming on citizen responsibilities 
and the legislative process, sports and original cultural 
productions, to day-to-day concerns like community events, and 
the changing environment of the Kathmandu Valley.

Radio Sagarmatha could fill a vacuum in information and critical 
perspective at the grassroots level, and work for substantial 
change by influencing those urban dwellers who play a key role in 
Nepal's political and economic decision-making. (ENDS)
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