Indigenous Voices, Indigenous Rights: The Role of Community Media

Article 16 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.
  2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity.

UNDRIP recognizes the importance of the right of Indigenous Peoples to their own forms of media and free expression in Indigenous languages for safeguarding culture, identity and equally to protect knowledge and information concerning to Indigenous Peoples. The media can ensure Indigenous Peoples’ right to access to information, participation and voice. However, in Nepal, there are few media outlets which provide programming in Indigenous languages and from the perspective of Indigenous Peoples. Nepal’s media has been and is still overwhelmingly controlled by the members of the dominant social groups, not only in terms of ownership but also in terms of content production. The major language used in the media has been Nepali.

At present, there are as many as 116 Television and 793 FM radio stations which have obtained license to operate across the country. Similarly, there are a total 7743 newspapers and magazines registered including 735 daily newspapers.xxi Of all newspapers published in Nepal, 93 percent are published in non-Indigenous languages. Of this percentage, 68 percent are published in Nepali and 25 percent in English, Hindi, and English-Nepali. The media in Indigenous languages (those media, newspapers, broadcasting radio and TV programs by Indigenous journalists) account for less than 6.6 percent of the total, despite the fact that Indigenous Peoples make up 36 percent of the national population. The public government broadcasting Nepal Television and Gorkhapatra (newspaper) provide merely translated Nepali news into some Indigenous languages, those which have a relatively higher number of Indigenous languages speakers, and the content does not reflect the cultures, concerns, and voices of Indigenous Peoples themselves.

Of the total 740 FM radio obtained for license (as of June 30, 2020), some 400 are termed “community radio stations.” These are mainly run by NGOs and cooperatives, with some being commercial run by private companies. Although community radio stations in Nepal have the potential to be the lifeblood for many remote communities where many residents are speakers of Indigenous languages, many of currently licensed community radio stations are located in district headquarters, physically inaccessible to the majority of Indigenous Peoples who are living in remote villages. They are mostly controlled by dominant groups in terms of ownership, decision making, and content production. To truly fulfill their role as a community radio station, the communities should have meaningful participation in the radio’s leadership board and content should reflect the communities’ cultural and linguistic diversity.

Although there are a few media outlets, including FM stations, TV and newspapers, which are owned and operated by individuals or groups from Indigenous communities, they lack funding and support from the government. The lack of Indigenous Peoples control over their own forms of media, in Indigenous languages, has hindered Indigenous Peoples’ right to access, participate in, and have voice in Nepali society, and deprived of their right to information, freedom of expression reflecting their cultural and lingual diversity and right to communication in their Indigenous language. 

Dev Kumar Sunuwar spoke at the UN Headquarter, co-organized by NGO Relations, Advocacy and Special Events Section, Outreach Division; and the Strategic Communications Division, Department of Public Information (DPI)