Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nepal Television: Pioneering TV Broadcaster of Nepal

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

When Nepal Television, which is the oldest and pioneering television station of Nepal  was established in 1985, I was in the former Soviet Union majoring in Journalism at the Belorussian State University in Minsk. Nepal Television set up during the Panchayat regime enjoyed its unprecedented broadcasting monopoly until 2000s when the television broadcasting sector has exploded from one channel - the state controlled one - to more than two dozens today. As a matter of fact, in many countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, television broadcasting was a government monopoly until 2000s.

Well, I fondly remember still when I was with the Peoples Campus teaching Journalism to the IA students, I used to take my students to the Nepal Television studio building at Singha Durbar once every year from 1992 to 2002 for the orientation field trip. That was when NTV was the only TV channel in Nepal.

Despite mushrooming of the private TV channels, NTV is still the most organized, most well equipped, stable and viable TV channel of Nepal. NTV which broadcasts programs in Nepali, Nepal Bhasa, Maithili and English, has been producing and airing entertainment and educational TV series, reality and game shows, news cast and talk shows. There is no doubt that the power of a television channel is its viewership and Nepal Television is still one of the most watched TV channels of Nepal.

Amid stiff competition for viewers and advertising revenue, the Nepalese television channels have relied on socio-political and satirical sitcoms and rowdy political talk shows, reality and game shows.Set up in 1985, Nepal Television's total programming was still three hours a day in 1991. Even Indian government's Door Darshan TV was not a 24-hour channel at that time, nor were the more powerful central Soviet TV channels

When the then king Gyanendra orchestrated a virtual 'coup' against the political parties in 2005, the Nepal Television was used as a platform. The state controlled Nepalese TV broadcast relentless barrage of public support for the king's autocratic move, with many persons wrongly hailing the step as the one for ushering in an era of development and responsible democracy. Well, that never happened. Instead, there were a lot of censorship  in the Nepalese newspapers, FMs and TV channels. Freedom of press and freedom of expression were substantially curtailed, when the king was using the tactics of usurpation of power through royal takeover.

Nepal Television being a government undertaking reflects the views of the government. However, private TV channels, such as, Kantipur TV, Image Channel, Avenues TV etc serve as a counter point to state-run television channel's pro-government coverage

In Nepal, television broadcasting is also a lucrative business controlled by powerful, largely unaccountable tycoons with vested interests. A glaring example: "National Television" stopped broadcasting when its owner Yunus Ansari was arrested in case of counterfeit Indian currency. Ansari was arrested several times with fake Indian notes.

According to the data published by Ministry of Information and Communication of Nepal, 32 television channels were registered by August 2011. However, owing to the financial crunch, many of them could not launch programs on stipulated time and as a result licenses of nine TV channels were revoked by the government.

Recently, in the digital media, the issue of the Nepalese television journalists being underpaid and not paid on time was reported in detail. The controversy has rekindled a debate whether a small and poor country like Nepal can afford more than two dozen TV channels?

In Nepal, though Internet use is growing rapidly, FMs and TV channels remain the main news source for most of the urban population

Television broadcasting that started in 1985 was a late entry into Nepal's mass media system comparing to countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and even Ethiopia. Just as significantly, however, the history of Nepal Television mirrors the difficult trajectory of the  TV broadcasting in Nepal.

*Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

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