Radio Sagarmatha wins global award – now that’s real people’s radio!

On 23 May 2007, I wrote about Radio Sagarmatha (RS) of Nepal, South Asia’s first ever public radio station that completed 10 years on that day.

I called it Kathmandu’s beacon of hope. The pioneering radio station, entirely owned and operated by the journalists’ collective Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ), has stood by the people of Kathmandu valley — its listeners — through an eventful, sometimes turbulent decade.

And now, more recognition has come — this time in the form of an international award.

Last evening (June 14) in London’s Porchester Hall, the One World Broadcasting Trust (OWBT) presented its Special Award to Radio Sagarmatha.

I join Radio Sagarmatha’s friends and admirers worldwide in congratulating them on this latest honour.

RA Station manager, Mohan Bista, who accepted the award on behalf of his team, said: “We would like to dedicate this award to the Nepali people who fought for freedom of expression and democracy in the country, and thank them for their support through the good and bad times. We welcome the challenge and responsibility of the future.”

Announcing the selection, OWBT said:
“Based in the heart of the Kathmandu Valley, Radio Sagarmatha has irreversibly changed the landscape of broadcasting in the country. Originally built from water pipes and tested by staff driving around the streets of Kathmandu on motorbikes clutching radios, this bold venture gave momentum to the pro-democracy movement, which eventually led to the restoration of parliamentary democracy in April 2006.”

Earlier, Lord Young of Norwood Green, Chairman of OWBT, had said in a letter sent to Radio Sagarmatha: “The Trustees received a large number of nominations from as far apart as Guatemala, Zambia…. and it was inevitably a very difficult choice for them, but Radio Sagarmatha stood out because of its long-standing reputation as one of the first independent public-interest radio stations in South Asia, and the continued efforts to bring credible information to the audiences in an engaging and interactive way. The Trustees were unanimous in their choice.”


OWBT’s official press release announcing the award said:
When Radio Sagarmatha launched in May 1997 – after five years of lobbying – it was a milestone not just for Nepal but for the whole of South Asia, marking the end of the government’s radio monopoly. The station blazed a trail for broadcasting in the country, and in its wake hundreds of commercial FM and community-based stations were set up.

When the King’s regime banned all independent broadcasters from carrying news in April 2005, the station continued its daily output. Seven months later, police raided the station, seizing all technical equipment and arresting five staff. But within days, public pressure led the Supreme Court of Nepal to issue an order to the government allowing Radio Sagarmatha to go live again.

RS employs 40 staff and 29 freelancers, and has recently gained government approval to double its transmitter capacity from 500 to 1,000 watts. RS has established a network of eight community radio stations across the country and offers technical support and in-house training for newcomers to Nepal’s radio sector. The station receives sponsorship from local organisations including Eco-Himal, as well as international agencies. It also runs a Friends of Radio Sagarmatha scheme which has so far raised over $10,000.

The One World Media Awards is one of the foremost Awards events in the UK encouraging excellence in media coverage that supports a greater understanding of the vital issues of international development. The awards recognise the unique role of journalists and film makers in bridging the divide between different societies, and communicating the breadth of social, political and cultural experiences across the globe. The 11 award categories cover television, radio, new media and print journalism.

Radio Sagarmatha is well and truly people’s radio. It’s not a government-controlled, donor-propped charade like Sri Lanka’s so-called community radio, about which I wrote earlier this month.

Full list of OWBT award winners 2007

One World Media Awards jury panels for 2007