In the field of mass communication or in the growth and development of the electronic media, to be precise, Nepal probably ranks among the pioneer nations. Today, there are around 350 radio and more than a dozen TV stations. And the people power that we talk of these days manifests in these media platforms, precisely, in radio communication, simply because it is omnipresent.
Radio represents people power because it gives a voice to the voiceless. Cheaper Frequency Modulation has empowered the common people. In rural Nepal, people carrying small FM sets are a familiar sight. Now that telephone companies have expanded their cellular networks throughout the nation, people plug in their earphones as they tune to the different FM stations in their mobile phones.
Mass communication, surfacing as an American concept in the early Sixties, in the writing of Wilbur Schramm and other media experts, has revolutionised impersonal communication and its technologies. As a medium of mass communication, the radio is unique as it is within the reach of almost all people. Now broadcasting techniques are shifting emphasis to personal communication, as if it is treating every listener separately. The ‘You’ in the radio programme is no longer the plurality, but the single person, who at the moment may have tuned in.
Kathmandu may boast more than two dozen FM stations, but a place like Dang, too, has six FM stations. Some of the capital-based FM stations have become national, reaching out to almost every corner of the state, or broadcasting their programmes from partner stations.
Local radios are finding hard to co-exist with these; however, this has localised them, giving them an extra boost. They have made themselves popular by broadcasting to special audiences like the farmers, schoolchildren, housewives and ethnic tribes.
Radio Kantipur may be good to listen to, but radio stations like Bageshwori FM in Nepalgunj help people to identify themselves with the stations. Not only do such FM stations based in small towns - whether as a commercial venture or community service - broadcast national news and views, but also local news and information including someone’s death, birth and invitation for social gathering. The Tharus in Bardiya are especially happy to hear the national news in their language.
"It made me sad when Kantipur daily wrote about me as an ex-kamaiya," says Dilli Chaudhary of Tulsipur. "I’m the president of BASE which has been working to re-habilitate the freed kamaiyas and consolidating the Tharu community."
For people like Chaudhary, local FM stations are more reliable.
Newspapers and TV have an edge over the radio only in repeatability and visual appeal. The radio thrives on the psychological principle that when only one sense is engaged, the massage goes deeper. Seeing is believing, but hearing has its own sensory compensation in inducing greater absorption than the visual or audio-visual media.
Substances of radio programming are entertainment, information, commercials, instruction/education and public service announcements. The power of the radio manifests in its ability to reach the illiterate mass not only in informing and entertaining but also educating them.
During the Constituent Assembly elections, the radio in the rural areas, where the illiterate or semi-educated live, had done a great job in a way that no one had ever done before. People were informed about the candidates, parties, political manifestos and agenda each of the parties was vouching for. The radios informed the people about all the procedures involved in the election, and how it was different from all the polls in the past.
Even today in the Nepalese hinterland, the radio is the best source of knowing what’s happening with constitution writing or state-restructuring or what the parliamentarians are doing these days or what’s wrong with Singha Durbar. The radio has become the best medium for creating public awareness.
Radios in many districts such as Dang started airing syllabus-based education programmes when the SLC exams were at the threshold. As the CDMA phones and cellular telephony have reached all accessible villages, participation in radio programmes has reached higher levels. People use this opportunity to request songs or have light-hearted chit-chats. Additionally, they raise questions that concern them.
Take Rita, for example. She was confused about a passage in the English textbook. Once a guest in a programme happened to be a teacher, and he cleared her confusions. Most of the students who cannot attend private tutors have benefitted a lot. The radio as a platform of education, or as they say radio classroom, has been quite popular with the targetted audience in and around the cities and towns of Nepal.
Nepal has set a good example of what the radio can do to the public. India has emulated Nepal’s endeavour to spread its radio medium. The FM actually had evolved as a local broadcast, so it was not intended to reach places far away like the short wave or medium wave. But the Nepal government has gone for a liberal policy. It has even allowed a company to operate all the media platforms namely radio, television, newspaper and online news. It is the best example of freedom of speech in an underdeveloped country trying to come out of its feudal cocoon. However, at times, radio stations pursuing and promoting commercial interests have become an obstacle in moulding the people’s psyche.