Thursday, December 06, 2007

FM stations are mired; some are suspect

Razen Manandhar
[2007 December 6, Thursday]
One decade has passed since Frequency Modulation (FM) radio stations were introduced in Nepal, but over a hundred FM radio stations, aired from different parts of the country, are mired — they are still not clear where they are heading for.

The Kathmandu valley itself has two dozens of FM stations, out of 34 companies which have obtained government licences, trying to find their audience among the potpourri society of FM listeners. Those who claim themselves to be “community” or the others who remain “commercial” FM stations all are moving forward with an unclear audience.
Radio Sagarmatha was the first to get private firm to get the licence for broadcasting on May 18, 1997 after the state-owned Radio Nepal got licence for its FM station in February11, 1996. According to the government records, 305 companies have obtained permission for FM radio stations.

“Most of the radio stations, do not actually know for whom they are producing programmes and also have no idea whether the listeners are interested in the programmes they air,” said Krishna Adhikari, a media scholar, who has recently done a study on FM stations.

How many?

There is no hard and fast rule on how many FM stations are appropriate for the valley. “And there should not be either. But they must be serving the needs of the audience,” said Raj Shrestha, managing director of Times FM.

Earlier, it was decided that there would not be no more stations than 11 — out of which one was reserved for the then Royal Nepal Army and one was for the palace in the valley. But later , the number of stations the valley supposedly could hold grew — Kamal Thapa had issued licences to over a dozen new stations and the situation worsened when Krishna Bahadur Mahara became information minister, a media critic said.

The craze for license was so high that the one, which legally costs Rs 200 thousand, cost up to 10 million when the Jana Andolan II was taking its height. “I paid 3.3 million for my licence when I acquired it. A pro-palace agent came to me and
offered Rs 10 million because he needed a running station to disseminate views against the seven party agitation and to support the king’s direct rule,” said an owner.

He also says that many of the FM stations are owned by top-notch political leaders who will one day come up with their real intention in acquiring the licenses.

In general, the distance between two stations should be 0.6 MHz. But on one hand, the minimum distance is not maintained, while on the other, some stations have successfully stopped the government from issuing licences to nearby frequencies, so, keeping their air safe from possible encroachment.

Popularity and listeners
For the 1.8 million of the Kathmandu Valley we have 26 running radio stations, which mean the audiences are divided for their choice of stations but no clear indication has been drawn which one is the most popular one.

“Of course, nobody can stop me from claiming that my station is the best and most widely listened in the valley,” said Shrestha sarcastically. He said that there is no authority to compare or review the impact of the radio programmes, and those who claimed to be best or whatever are never criticised.

He added that it happens so because the listeners in the Kathamndu Valley are all dumb and they seldom react whether you provide them with the best or the worst.
A programme presenter of Radio Sagarmatha, Pratyush Onta, had to paste a
notice in the office of the radio station itself seeking feedback as he failed to get any critical comment for his 30 episodes of Dabali discussion programme in
November 1998.

And, according to Shrestha, making programmes only for the sake of society is also useless for they do not respond and you never know if the society makes any benefit or not. “Rather, I will go for making businesses by making programmes for the advertisers,” he said.

In recent days, a kind of understanding among the station owners has been made that one particular station cannot cover the need of the versatile and wide range of denizens of the valley. “So they are now trying to specialise their programmes so that a particular group of audience could be targeted — you can find news-oriented, intellectual, musical, religious or even humourous stations,” said he.

He added that since the government is always under the influence of the
political leaders, only society could bring the FM stations to a desired track by appreciating, warning, teaching or even boycotting them.

A radio station needs 50 to 100 employees to run a station but hardly any of them is satisfactorily paid.

“Making a career in FM radio is a distant dream. During my study, I found that most of the stations are running with new, untrained staff or relatives, for which they don’t have to pay sufficiently,” said Adhikari.

He also added that in many cases, the owners have sought money from the programme presenters who want to be “famous” by airing a programme or two. On the other hand, many of the stations have a tendency to block chances[...]

News in FM has become a craze in the recent days. Almost every FM stations are airing news at regular intervals. Most of them have hourly news bulletins and some like Kalika FM of Chitwan has 24 hours news bulletins.

“It is almost a surprising craze. Once people used to look down on FM news, saying that they do not have sources and they are not reliable. But now, they take FM news as something comparable to papers,” said Binod Dhungel, editor of Nepal FM.

He said, however, most of the FM stations lack basic infrastructure— either a reporting team or a news desk.

“But, they all are running blindly only to do something innovative, driven by passion than by ability,” he said.

On the other hand, most of the FM news bulletins, like broadsheet newspapers or state-owned AM radio, are covering the usual political stuff and working as local or community radio stations. Meetings of the parties, speeches of leaders, changes in party philosophy are taking covering time, not local problems or day-to-day affairs of the people.

Dhungel admits that though many of the stations have news bulletins, they do not give emphasis to local news.

“We also tried to cover local incidents and stories trough a programme ‘Tole Chhimeki” but we lack that kind of manpower and the local audience do not want to help us,” he said.

He also added that since the advertisers want wider coverage, they prefer national news or stations, which could be listened to in other cities as well.

“We cannot blame all but most FM stations are only escalating crave for news among the audience and serving the audience with half-baked or misleading information,” said Adhikari.

Nothing is clear — some owners had to sale parental properties as they incurred heavy losses running FM stations, and some persons, who brought almost nothing from their hometowns, are running stations which are now worth billions.

Businessmen, media persons, municipal organisations and political leaders are also seen in investing in FM stations.

“Some owners are even unseen and even foreigners could also be traced behind stations,” Adhikari said, adding, that it is suspicious that most of the stations have invested billions but they all do not own land and buildings.

An investor said that hardly any of the stations are sincere in terms of investments. “Some are bringing surplus profit of their other business and others are inviting unseen and dubious investors to run the stations. Many of them are surviving only because of their ego problems with one person or institution,” said he, adding that the problems in FM stations can be traced to the fact that stations are run by businessmen, not professionals.
[Kathmandu, 2007/12/06]