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Royal Nepalese Army On FM Radio

By Purbasi Chhetri

During a press briefing, the RNA spokesperson revealed that RNA will operate six FM radio stations across the country to counter Maoist propaganda. Earlier, the Minister for information and communications had said that the government has issued licenses to Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) to run FM radios.

He has also assured the visiting International Advocacy Mission for Press Freedom in Nepal that "it would not limit the independent freedom of expression" as "it is not unconstitutional and undemocratic for the army to run FM stations".

There are many countries in the world including UN Peace Keeping Missions where the army has been running not only FM but also AM and TV stations to support mission accomplishment. There are many instances where military contingents of western rich countries deployed in UN peacekeeping missions run their own FM stations. Nowadays, UN Peace Keeping Mission HQs run their own radio stations in host country territory in international and as well as local languages.

The US Army use strategic, operational and tactical radio and television broadcast transmitters to conduct psychological campaigns. These involve from long range AM radio, TV to short range FM radio broadcasting stations. The US and UK Army run radio stations in all theatres of war. British Gurkhas in Hong Kong had their own radio transmission station. Therefore it is not a new introduction in Nepal.

Nepal is embroiled in a conflict. In this abnormal situation no one should expect a normal state of affairs. It is a known fact for everyone that Nepal has been fighting a war against violent Maoist insurgency/terrorism since 1996. The Maoists run their own mobile FM radio stations to spread communist propaganda and psychological terror. In Nepal most private print media freely publish material put out by the Maoists including the interviews, statements, articles and bandh programmes called by the Maoists.

Because of this, people change their attitude and behaviour in favour of the Maoists. Bandhs called by the Maoists become successful primarily because some media publicise them without giving serious thoughts about its impact on national life. The Maoists conduct mass indoctrinations through organising mass meetings in the countryside and use private electronic and print media to indoctrinate the urban educated middle class. To counter all these, the government was lacking an effective media campaign that could effectively neutralize Maoist propaganda and remove the sense of psychological fear among the populace.

RNA's plan to run FM stations with the goal of countering Maoist propaganda as part of integrated response plan against the Maoists sounds very natural and encouraging. The necessity was seemingly corroborated by the fact that existing private FM stations did almost nothing to counter baseless propaganda and psychological terror spread by the Maoists. Rather in many occasions they were successfully used by the Maoists. Not only in the countryside but also in cities including the capital, the Maoists used its FM stations to spread communist propaganda with the theme of demoralizing the security forces and the people to fulfill their objective.

However, just by running the FM station in itself is not going to be an achievement. It depends on how effectively they could jam Maoist FM broadcasts, and counter the Maoist propaganda by putting out their own effective psychological campaign products.

Taking lessons from other countries, it can be recommended that Army FM radio stations operating in conflict/combat zones should indeed aim to function to effectively jam insurgent mobile and static FM station broadcasts, counter insurgent propaganda and terror campaigns, raise morale of their own men and destroy the insurgent's will to fight, inform the people of achievements by the government and security forces and broadcast recreational materials preferably in local languages for the benefit of local communities.

Some quarters in Nepal maintain the view that the Army should be sent to fight a war alone only with guns and bullets by restricting all other means that would require help to win the war. All would agree that an integrated approach is the best solution for countering an insurgency. Such an integrated response plan to counter insurgency should indeed encompass media campaigns, political campaigns, social-economic development campaigns, military campaigns and so on. The fact remains that a counter insurgency campaign is not a stand alone military campaign rather military is only one of the instruments of government. Government run radio and televisions could also be utilised to counter the propaganda spread by the Maoists and other internal and external ill elements.

Last year when the government banned FM radios to broadcast news, many challenged the government to rather stop Maoist FM stations from broadcasting news. Now the RNA has that job. Again some private FM stations have shown their anger and dissatisfactions over the decision on the ground that RNA FM radio would curtail their business profit. But the question is how a non-profit making FM radio station having entirely different objectives could harm profit oriented private FM stations? Creating a secured environment through gradual victory over insurgency would indeed help private enterprises to grow.

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