Sound of music

In a welcome development, the Supreme Court has prevented the government, pending the final verdict, from scrapping the licence of an FM radio station for broadcasting news. The FM stations have faced this blanket ban since the February 1 royal takeover, and even after the lifting of the state of emergency, the ban stands. But recently, despite the prohibitory orders, Nepal FM started broadcasting news, provoking the government to ask it to explain why its licence should not be annulled. The management moved court, and a single bench of Justice Anup Raj Sharma issued a stay order on Wednesday, asking the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of Information and Communication to reply as to why the process of cancellation had been initiated.

The royal government has opened up too many fronts, including its ban on FM newscast, drawing sharp criticism at home and abroad. Though the SC ruling came in the context of a petition by Nepal FM, other FM stations can now start news programmes. The government had issued licences to FM stations, permitting most of them to broadcast news under Section 8(c) of the National Broadcasting Act 1991. It is sometimes said that those who were the first to receive a licence and those who received it later are supposed to follow separate rules on news broadcasts. Whatever the exact nature of discrimination, it is patently unfair and probably unconstitutional.

The Constitution guarantees the public’s right to information and the press and publication right, which prohibits any censorship, closure or seizure of the press for printing anything, as well as the cancellation of the registration of any newspaper or periodical. The Constitution does not have separate provisions for the electronic media, but logically speaking, its spirit cannot envisage gross discrimination against them alonside guarantees for the print media. If it were so, it would amount to a truncated media freedom. The broadcasting law gives the government substantial discretionary powers against radio and TV stations. But admittedly, these were the product of a democratically elected party-run government. The time has come for the Supreme Court to make things crystal clear in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.