En­ter the Me­dia Dragon

Growth of me­dia in Bhutan could af­fect its cul­tural and tra­di­tional val­ues.

Southasia - - MEDIA BHUTAN - By Muham­mad Omar Iftikhar

For cen­turies, Bhutan re­mained shy of global recog­ni­tion, main­tain­ing a low pro­file. One rea­son may be its ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion since it is a land­locked coun­try. Its rulers were wary of plac­ing it in the lime­light be­cause of var­i­ous cul­tural bar­ri­ers.

How­ever, the sit­u­a­tion changed af­ter Bhutan adopted con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy in 2007. The Bhutanese so­ci­ety has un­der­gone a num­ber of changes since then. Old is giv­ing way to the new. Among other facets of life that have seen a re­mark­able trans­for­ma­tion, the Bhutanese me­dia is one which has pro­gressed in an out­stand­ing man­ner. How­ever, it is still in its in­fancy and is largely con­trolled by the state. At this stage, it will be un­just to com­pare the me­dia of Bhutan to that of its South Asian coun­ter­parts – es­pe­cially In­dia, Pak­istan and Bangladesh – but the progress it has made in a short time is no­tice­able.

Bhutan’s first step to­wards es­tab­lish­ing a me­dia sec­tor came in 1967 with the pub­li­ca­tion of Kuensel, the coun­try’s first news­pa­per. Since Bhutan had scarce re­sources to print a news­pa­per, it had to buy a press from In­dia. By 1986, Kuensel had be­come a weekly pub­li­ca­tion and the of­fi­cial voice of the Depart­ment of In­for­ma­tion that worked un­der the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In 1973, the Na­tional Youth As­so­ci­a­tion of Bhutan (NYAB) be­gan ra­dio pro­grams. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment took over the con­trol of NYAB in 1979. By 1986, NYAB was re­named as the Bhutan Broad­cast­ing

Ser­vice (BBS).

De­spite the re­stric­tions im­posed by the gov­ern­ment, Bhutan’s print me­dia has thrived. To­day, there are eleven news­pa­pers in the coun­try. Among them, seven are pub­lished in English while four are in Dzongkha, Bhutan’s of­fi­cial lan­guage. Kuensel, Busi­ness Bhutan, The Bhutanese, The Jour­nal­ist, and Bhutan Times are some of the news­pa­pers that have made a name with their high qual­ity work.

Com­pared to news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines area re­cent phe­nom­e­non. Yee­wong be­gan pub­li­ca­tion in 2008 while Druk Trowa and Drupka fol­lowed in 2009. The Stu­dent Di­gest and Bhutan Timeout started pub­li­ca­tion in 2011 and 2012, re­spec­tively, while the coun­try’s first travel mag­a­zine,

Voy­age, started in 2013. Af­ter the ar­rival of the BBS, Bhutan’s ra­dio in­dus­try has wit­nessed a great surge. Five ra­dio chan­nels have started trans­mis­sions since 1973; BBS Ra­dio (1973), Ku­zoo FM (2006), Ra­dio Val­ley (2007), Cen­ten­nial Ra­dio (2008) and Ra­dio Waves (2010). BBS Ra­dio and Ku­zoo FM broad­cast na­tion­wide while the other three sta­tions are heard in Thim­phu only. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey, nearly 77 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion lis­tens to BBS while in the re­mote ar­eas of the coun­try where news­pa­pers and TV haven’t reached yet, ra­dio is the only source of in­for­ma­tion.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that Bhutan in­tro­duced tele­vi­sion quite late - in 1999 – with the BBS launch­ing satel­lite tele­vi­sion which reaches over 40 Asian coun­tries. The peo­ple of Bhutan also have the fa­cil­ity of ca­ble tele­vi­sion, which cov­ers nearly all ur­ban ar­eas.

Re­cently, Bhutan wit­nessed an evo­lu­tion of ide­olo­gies and tra­di­tions that com­pelled the gov­ern­ment to pro­mote its me­dia. The progress of the me­dia sec­tor is likely to trans­form the coun­try’s so­cio-economic sys­tem as well.

It is be­lieved that the pur­pose be­hind the gov­ern­ment’s re­stric­tions on me­dia af­fairs is to keep in­tact the essence of the cul­ture and tra­di­tions that have de­fined Bhutan for cen­turies. Al­though tra­di­tion is giv­ing way to moder­nity, the coun­try has to push the lim­its of me­dia free­dom even fur­ther to achieve its ba­sic pur­pose: cre­ate aware­ness among the masses. Al­though the royal de­cree passed in 1992 to make me­dia an in­de­pen­dent en­tity paved the way for the growth of the in­dus­try, the sec­tor hasn’t yet achieved in­de­pen­dence in the true sense.

Among other means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the in­ter­net is an­other phe­nom­e­non that is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity among the Bhutanese youth. Though the in­ter­net ar­rived in Bhutan in 1999-2000, it has be­come a rage in the coun­try in the last few years. In the in­ter­net the Bhutanese youth has found a great medium to ex­press their opin­ions and views. For a highly con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety like

It is be­lieved that the pur­pose be­hind the gov­ern­ment’s re­stric­tions on me­dia af­fairs is to keep in­tact the essence of the cul­ture and tra­di­tions that have de­fined Bhutan for cen­turies.

Bhutan’s, the in­ter­net in­deed pro­vides a great sense of free­dom.

The gov­ern­ment har­bors fears that al­low­ing for­eign tele­vi­sion con­tent will af­fect the cul­tural val­ues of the coun­try and will be a bad in­flu­ence on the youth. Th­ese fears are not com­pletely un­founded. While the in­ter­na­tional me­dia has its ben­e­fits, such as pro­vid­ing new av­enues of learn­ing and in­for­ma­tion, it also has its share of dis­ad­van­tages. Chil­dren spend too much time watch­ing tele­vi­sion and do not pay at­ten­tion to their stud­ies, the life­style of view­ers changes as they be­gin mak­ing their sched­ules around the tim­ings of tele­vi­sion shows, con­sumer habits al­ter and teenagers look up to ac­tors as role mod­els.

More­over, tele­vi­sion has cre­ated a gap between the ru­ral and ur­ban pop­u­la­tion as the lat­ter has ac­cess to TV while the for­mer only has ra­dio at their dis­posal. An­a­lysts also be­lieve that the global ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try is now tar­get­ing Bhutan and this may af­fect the buy­ing habits and core val­ues of the peo­ple, con­sid­er­ing the economic lim­i­ta­tions of the pop­u­la­tion. One ex­am­ple is that of Pepsi, which has hoard­ings in vil­lages where there is a short­age of drink­ing wa­ter.

Fol­low­ing the ar­rival of TV and the in­ter­net, the UNDP did a Hu­man Devel­op­ment Re­port in 2002 which stated: “It is im­por­tant to note that bridg­ing the ‘dig­i­tal di­vide’ is not sim­ply an is­sue of build­ing an in­for­ma­tion in­fra­struc­ture nor of buy­ing and hand­ing out com­put­ers and modems to ev­ery­one in a so­ci­ety. Pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion alone will not work. It has to be done along­side per­son-to-per­son com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The mass me­dia, on its own, may reach peo­ple with key mes­sages but the per­sonal out­reach is nec­es­sary to af­fect be­hav­ior change.”

Over the years, Bhutan has been fol­low­ing good gover­nance through trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity and ef­fi­ciency. The devel­op­ment in the me­dia has forced gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to pay heed to public opin­ion while de­vis­ing poli­cies. Var­i­ous gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, es­pe­cially the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion, have en­forced e-gover­nance to con­nect peo­ple with or­ga­ni­za­tions; web­sites pro­vided ef­fi­cient feed­back.

How much free­dom the Bhutanese gov­ern­ment will grant to its me­dia is yet to be seen. How­ever, the coun­try’s in­for­ma­tion in­fra­struc­ture must cater to devel­op­ment plan­ning. With the youth pur­su­ing mod­ern ide­olo­gies in a coun­try that has fol­lowed strict Bud­dhist prin­ci­ples for cen­turies, the me­dia in Bhutan is likely to face some re­sis­tance be­fore it achieves full free­dom. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment of Bhutan must make a con­scious ef­fort to pro­mote the me­dia while pro­tect­ing the coun­try’s cul­tural, so­cial, tra­di­tional and re­li­gious iden­tity.

The writer worked as as­sis­tant ed­i­tor at Southasia. He writes on top­ics of so­cial in­ter­est.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.