Enter the Media Dragon
Growth of media in Bhutan could affect its cultural and traditional values.
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
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.