Media as Guardian of Democracy

The tiny Himalayan kingdom, which had recently witnessed democracy, has a nascent media industry which is gradually expanding from a single government-owned newspaper until 2006 to 12 newspapers now. The right to information and freedom of expression and media are guaranteed in the Kingdom’s Constitution. This right is considered fundamental to fulfilling the overarching goal of Gross National Happiness.

Teresa Rehman spoke to Lily Wangchhuk , former diplomat and Executive Director, Bhutan Media Foundation on the growth of media in the country. Wangchhuk holds a Masters Degree in Public Policy (Diplomacy & International Policy Studies) from Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. She is the author of Prize Winning Book, Facts about Bhutan.

1. What kind of activities do you resort to that help you support the media in Bhutan?

Bhutan Media Foundation was established through a Royal Charter issued by His Majesty the King on February 21, 2010 to foster the growth of a strong responsible media capable of playing an important role in the social, economic and political growth of the nation. It is mandated to support wholesome development of media so that it can carry out its roles and responsibilities in the interest of democracy. In accordance with its Charter formulated by a team of media professionals, the Foundation is expected to cover five broad areas covering fostering professional growth of the Bhutanese media; supporting free and independent media; promoting the use of national language; supporting literacy and media awareness initiatives and creating enabling environment for media development.

2. Has the Bhutan media been able to cope with the global media boom?

Media in Bhutan is a fairly young development. The concept of the media, as a player in the growth of a modern society began in the mid-1980s, with the establishment of the first Bhutanese newspaper, Kuensel and the Bhutan Broadcasting Station. In the late 1990s, ICT, electronic media and television was introduced. Today, Bhutanese media has grown considerably in all its forms.

Currently there are 12 newspapers (8 in English and 4 in Dzongkha) that includes Kuensel (1965), Bhutan Times (2006) , Bhutan Observer (2006), Bhutan Today (2008), Business Bhutan (2009), The Journalist (2009), The Bhutanese (2012), Druk Neytshuel (2010), Druk Yoedzer (2011), Bhutan Youth (2011), Gyalchi Sarshog (2012), Druk Melong (2012) and five radio stations that includes BBS Radio (1973), Kuzoo FM (2006), Radio Valley (2007), Centennial Radio (2008) and Radio Waves (2010). While, the FM services and shortwave services of the BBS reach the entire country, Kuzoo FM radio services are available nationwide and remaining radio stations services are currently available only in Thimphu. Magazines range from news magazine such as Drukpa (2009), Dharig (2012) to entertainment magazines that includes Yeewong (2008), Druk Trowa (2009), Student Digest (2011) and Bhutan Timeout (2012).

Television has only been introduced since 1999. Currently BBS TV is the only television channel that caters local news and programmes in Bhutan. The BBS launched its satellite television service in February 2006 and is now available in more than 40 Asian countries – from Turkey in the West to Indonesia in South East Asia. In order to define its content and providing a choice to its viewers BBS 2 was launched on 21 Jan, 2012. While the NCA (News & Current Affairs) channel follows on News and Current Affairs, BBS 2 has a healthy mix of educational and entertainment programmes.

Cable television services are also available in Bhutan which covers almost all the parts of Bhutan provided by the cable TV operators. While the film industry is still in its infancy, the number of Bhutanese films has been increasing with more people venturing into the industry.

In recent years, social media has gained popularity with an increasing number of Bhutanese blogging, visiting popular social networking sites like facebook and twitter for news and information, interaction, and discussion among others.

3. Do Bhutanese media enjoy freedom of speech and expression?

Yes they do. It is not an issue or challenge faced by media. Sustenance issues are bigger challenges faced by the media as they are over reliant on the government for revenue generation.

4. Which is the most popular form of media there? Has online media picked up in Bhutan?

Bhutan Broadcasting Television followed by radio largely for rural population and newspaper for urban population. Online is picking up in Bhutan.

5. Has social media networking changed the way news is gathered and disseminated in Bhutan?

Use of social media for news gathering and dissemination has not been fully utilized as yet.

6. Since the BMF was established by a Royal Charter, how independent are its activities?

BMF was established under Royal Charter, as requested by media representatives in 2009. As a non profit, non government organization we are governed by the Board currently composed of five members, four representing the media houses and one the government. Our activities are therefore totally independent.

7. How active are journalist associations and press clubs in Bhutan?

Journalist Association of Bhutan has just been formed and we are currently working towards establishment of Press Club in Bhutan.

8. What kind of welfare schemes are in place for journalists in Bhutan?

The newly formed Journalist Association of Bhutan has similar plans for the future.

9. Are there enough media schools in your country to hone young talents?

Currently we do not have dedicated media schools but the Royal University has plans of introducing media studies.