BBS and the government

Enough protection?

Last week, Parliament authorized the government to review the mandate of BBS. I’m against the government meddling in BBS’s affairs. But our lawmakers feel that the country’s only TV station is underperforming. And that the government should intervene to give BBS vision and the means to achieve that vision.

So what’s the first move that the government makes? It directs BBS to go 24/7. And it does so without consulting anyone in BBS. Our national broadcaster struggles to generate sufficient content for the five hours it goes on air each day, and the government, unilaterally, directs BBS to broadcast round the clock. This directive does not augur well for television in Bhutan.

BBS is essentially a non-commercial public service broadcaster. So the state should subsidize its operations. How much? That, the government should decide.

But the government should not interfere in how BBS is run. That is the job of the Managing Director and the Board of Directors – ultimately they are the ones responsible for ensuring that BBS is able to inform, educate and entertain our people, and for protecting its editorial independence.

And that, precisely, was the reason why BBS was delinked from the government in the first place. The Royal Kasho establishing BBS as an autonomous corporation was issued way back on 18 September 1992. But its message is timeless. In fact, it’s even more relevant today. So, to remind ourselves, I’m reproducing the translation of that Royal Kasho:

In three decades of successful planned development, Bhutan has seen rapid socio-economic growth and the kingdom has made the significant transition from self-imposed isolation towards achieving the national goal of creating a better life for the people in a progressive and modern nation.

Today, as the kingdom enters the age of communications, its priorities are geared to meet the need and demands of the times. The kingdom has seen a dramatic increase in the literacy rate of the population as a result of the special attention given by the royal government to the education sector. As technological advancement brings the international community closer together, it has also established the infrastructure to modernize and strengthen communications and information link with the rest of the world.

It is the policy of the royal government, therefore, to facilitate and encourage the professional growth of the Bhutanese media, which must play an important role in all areas of development. Such a role is especially relevant to the national policy of decentralization, which aims to involve all sections of the Bhutanese society in the socio-economic and political development of the kingdom.

The national newspaper, Kuensel and the Bhutan Broadcasting Service will therefore be de-linked from the Ministry of communications to give them the flexibility to grow in professionalism and to enable them to be more effective in fulfilling their important responsibility to society. From the fifth day of the eighth Bhutanese month (October 1, 1992) the national newspaper Kuensel and the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) will be established as two autonomous corporations. The Kuensel and BBS Corporations will be governed by an editorial board comprising representatives of the government, media, professionals, scholars and eminent citizens.

 

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  1. Dear OL,

    I agree with you but also disagree with you at the same time – on some points.

    First, I agree that the government should not interfere in the day to day running of the BBS. However, I disagree with you on your contention that the government is wrong in giving BBS the broad outline of their functions and responsibilities. The BBS is not a private turf that the management can do what they want. The BBS is a wholly owned entity of the government and therefore, they have to do its bidding. You cannot have a lap dog that bites the hand of the owner.

    I agree that the BBS is a public service broadcaster and so their job and responsibilities cannot be driven solely by profit motives. I am sure that the government would recognize that too. However, the management cannot whine away saying that they cannot perform what they have been asked to perform because they do not have the required budget to deliver what they have been asked to deliver. I read an article where the MD of the BBS is whining away at the directive of the government. She is being stupid. What she says clearly shows that she is not suited for the job and that she is unlikely to deliver what the government wants delivered. If she was a capable person, she should simply say: OK Sir thank you for the opportunity and the added responsibility; we will do it and we can do it. Now let me work out a plan and present to you an overview of how it can be done. We will submit to you additional staffing requirements, budgetary estimates, timelines etc. etc.

    Now if the government cannot deliver on their part of the deal, then the BBS MD is right to whine away. However, to say that she cannot deliver because she does not have the budget or the manpower is idiotic. The government should already know that to do 24/7 from the current 5/24 will require a monumental upgradation at all levels. They could not have told the BBS to do it without having decided to make the necessary investments.

    With due respect, a reference to the Royal Kasho is uncalled for. Whatever is contained in that Kasho CANNOT be anything against the interest of the government, or the people or the corporation. Therefore I do not need to read the Kasho.

    I am also intrigued at your remark that; “This directive does not augur well for television in Bhutan”. How is that so?

  2. ya,
    i agree with guest. BBS MD seems not capable of being in the post. she has zero management policy. that is why expertise left BBS.and more are leaving again. if you don’t believe me ask BBS staffs.

  3. i too agree with the commentators that BBS md is not even willing to attempt the given task…i am sure there will be so many challenges like budget, manpower, equipment etc but that is not impossible job!…As stated by Guest, MD should prepare a plan and then ask whatever she wants from government to implement it….straight away saying no is not a solution. sooner or later it has to be made 24/7….That is not a “wildest dream” rather every citizen’s dream to have 24/7….

  4. While many of us may want to hold the MD responsible for all the ills that affect the organisation (and it is morally justified), I guess that the so called “professionals” of BBS should rise up to the task.

    I see a lot of scope for BBS to widen its coverage; in terms of programs (ranging from education to science to agriculture to culture…the list is endless), demographics, talk shows, reality shows, panel discussions, regional offices shows,……

    Instead the present system is to rebroadcast a program endlessly. And more shameful is the people compiling and reading the reports sent in by field correspondents/reporters who pronounce “said’ as “sat”, just to cite an example.

    I guess the government’s directive to pull up its socks and perform in a manner that a media organization is supposed to is timely and right. It is about time that BBS as the sole broadcast media organisation wake up from that slumber and ‘perform’ instead of “whining away”.

  5. Thinlay says:

    Bravo guest!!! you have hit the nail on the head. I wish i was given such challange! it will test my mental, physical, intellectual and mangament skill.

    Cheers

  6. Practising GNH says:

    I think we need to do some screening and analyse to understand why BBS has been performing poorly. The analysis should look at both the structure as well as the mandates and capabilities of the people within BBS. One thing that we need to understand is that in Bhutan we do not have success stories of public corporations, not considering BPC and DHPC, which operate in an almost competitor-free/monopolistic market. I think the govt. should consider deregulating and also giving total autonomy. It should not be left to die slowly. One cannot expect an organisation to perform both financially and non-financially when there are so many conditions. There is definitely a need to look at the system and reengineer and redesign the systems and processes. I think Druk Seek failed for the same reasons. No MD with whatever expertise can solve the problem if it is the system. It is the system not the people working in BBS that need to be changed. Of course there must be innovative thinking and people need to come up with new products but the organisational culture need to change as well. Is the culture conducive and is BBS a learning organisation? I think it is still a traditional vertical organisation where whatever told by the Bosses above are always right. How about the Board members? Are they suitable and subject matter experts or they are the so called “ex-officios” with not much inputs? Are people paid as per their performance? Are people happy? Any employee surveys done? How are the products designed? Are customer (public) engaged in the process? A thorough analysis could reveal the true disease lying deep below. The signs of BBS sinking, like most corporations are only indicative of a failing system that need to be reengineered with the right tools. There is no time to wait. I have put few questions with the hope to provoke thinking within BBS. Whatever the reasons, something must be done before it sinks.

  7. Government corporation that has to meet both social and commercial obligations, is very often, put in dilemma. Because these reposibilities are mutually exclusive as it was found when druk seed corporation was reviewed.Druk seed is now reverted as the government seed centre. I guess similar review may have to be done for BBS if the corporation has to function effectively. Government has to decide whether BBS go full commercial and become independent from government clutches or remain as government corporation and function as government wants it to function. The choice has to be made. Keeping the corporation as such is inviting more bad times for the corporation and bad publicity for the government.

    Cheers

  8. Guest, congratulations! well said and very much relevant to all those concerned. I hope Hon’ble OL and BBS noted some points. TT

  9. Yangchung says:

    Do you think Haa is that pathetic of a dzongkhag in the country? The recent Samtse Culprits got transferred to Haa; which meant as a BIG punishment! wow ….I wonder how justified the claim is? LOL

  10. guardian says:

    BBS 24/7, either someone must be crazy or playing a cruel joke on us. While there is certainly a lot of room for improvement for BBS, the bottom line with state owned television stations are that it is impossible to compete with private owned channels and in our case with cable TV. You just have to take a look at Doordarshan, India’s state owned TV station which started some 50 years ago. They are on air 24/7 but does anyone watch their programs.

  11. Too much interference of the Parliament in the Governance could be construed DANGEROUS. Parliament is to LEGISLATE, leave the governance to the EXECUTIVE. Otherwise there is no need to separate functions in the Constitution. The current tendency and mentality of our MPs is everything under the sun is their responsibility which has been never true in a democratic set-up. The prime function is legislate sound laws that would guide the governance and provide justice to the country. Enacting a bill purely on majority (the numbers) may not be a sound law also. Personality and egoistic arguments by the matured MPs also mislead the young MPs, who are yet discover the true scheme of things and reality. As a voter, the MPs are yet to impress and gain confidence from the general public. Geral impression is they can talk without much substance and therefore a legislation without addressing the core issue would be the blunder of the first parliament, sending all the efforts made by our GREAT KINGS, down the drain. Please concentrate on what a Legislative body is suppose to do and do it well. A plea

  12. Dear Guardian,

    I beg your pardon but I think you are among those who shoot off the mouth without understanding what you are talking about. I think you miss the point completely.

    The success or failure of the BBS will not be measured in terms of how much profit they make but rather by how effectively they have been able to fulfill their primary mandate – that of reaching out to the remotest part of the country and by being able to disseminate information to the widest number of people. Please remember that the government’s directive to the BBS was not to make huge profits but to extend their airtime to 24/7.

    In the visual medium, BBS is a monopoly and so your saying that it cannot compete with private stations is rather ridiculous. You also cannot compare BBS to Doordarshan. Doordarshan has to compete with over few thousand channels (visual and audio) while BBS has virtually none to compete with it. Therefore, we have no choice but to listen and watch BBS. Further, a recent study has shown that BBS is the most popular among the Bhutan masses – even more than the Hindi soap which the Bhutanese people watch only during times when BBS is not aired. Given this, I think the government is right in wanting to increase the air time of a medium that has the largest reach. The government’s plans and programs will be lot more effective and understood better, if it were able to reach the largest number of beneficiaries.

  13. Dear Guest,

    I chose to reproduce the Royal Kasho because, as you put it, “Whatever is contained in that Kasho CANNOT be anything against the interest of the government, or the people or the corporation.”

    Why do I feel that “This directive does not augur well for television in Bhutan”? Because the directive was not a result of consultation with BBS or with experts. It was issued, unilaterally, to link up “with Bharti Airtel of India to provide the DTH service.”

  14. guardian says:

    Dear Guest,

    I am not sure who is shooting his mouth off without understanding anything. First of all you did not even read my post properly, I mentioned clearly that in Bhutan’s case BBS would be competing with cable TV and not private TV as I am fully aware that there are no private TV channels in Bhutan. Interestingly, have you stopped for just a while and pondered as to why there are no private TV channels in Bhutan, the simple reason is that it is not commercially viable owing to low viewer numbers.

    Now coming to BBS, for the last 5 years they have been broadcasting 4 to 5 hours daily, but the actual content lasts just for an hour or a bit more, the rest are all rebroadcasts. So how do you fit in 23 more hours of programs and even if by some miracle you manage to do so, how do you get the viewer numbers to sustain it. Your recent study which shows that BBS is the most popular among viewers must be flawed, can you tell us who did the survey and how many people actually participated in the survey. As for BBS not having any competition, you are wrong again, like I mentioned earlier, the cable operators will give BBS a run for their money any day.

    Of course, if you are willing to watch the announcements and repeats of the news broadcasts every day, maybe you are right in saying that BBS should go 24/7, otherwise, let’s not kid ourselves, right now it will be nigh impossible for BBS to do what the government asks of it.

  15. What BBS needs is a new management. Are you telling me that it has been almost a decade and BBS is still the same old BBS.
    They need creative and risk taking individuals in BBS.

  16. guardian says:

    truth,

    Apart from a teacher, Mingbo, the BBS has been run by diplomats, so maybe thats the reason for BBSC’s poor showing. After all what are our diplomats famous for, just being posted from one exotic location to another and attending the UN General Assembly once in a while where they are paid huge DSA’s.

    The professionals have all left BBSC, obviously because they feel they are being shortchanged.

  17. Dear OL,

    Thank you for responding to my post. Again, with due respect, I have to disagree with you on your contention that the neither the BBS management nor experts in the field were consulted before the directive to go 24/7 was issued. I disagree because the government does not have to seek the consent of the management to issue a directive which it feels is useful and progressive and in the interest of the country and the people.

    Concerning seeking advice from experts, I think that too is not necessary (at the stage of making the decision to go 24/7) since what the government has required is not something that is so technically complex and objectively unattainable. Now, if the BBS requires expert consultation and advice as to how to go about implementing and achieving the government directive, that is something else and I would agree that they will need help and the government should be forthcoming with whatever help is sought by the BBS. But certainly I hate it when the BBS MD goes smart with her mouth and whines away at the directive. That is a loser’s attitude and no way she is going to succeed with that kind of negative attitude to begin with. I hate to say it but I think the government should already read the writing on the wall. Given the kind of attitude she has, it should be obvious to the government that the present MD isn’t going to be the person to deliver on their plans and objectives.

    Dear guardian, I beg your pardon for the confusion. However, I am glad that you recognize and accept that the country’s user base or viewership does not appeal to the private operators to venture into the business of visual broadcast.

    When I render my support to the government on their initiative to extend the BBS airtime to 24/7, I am looking at things objectively. Two of the most important things that I consider are:

    1. Is the directive progressive and useful and beneficial to the people? and;
    2. In issuing that directive, is the government encroaching into the domain of the private sector or is it engaging in something that will stifle competition from the private players?

    I do not know what DTH is all about but if the government feels and is sure that it is the vehicle that will transport and deliver content to the rural masses – with efficiency, effectiveness and at the most economical cost, then I think hooking up with a service provider – whoever they may be is OK by me.

  18. guardian says:

    Dear Guest,

    I know that BBS has to go forward and the government of the day has every right in providing some direction to a sinking ship as it is very important for a fledgling democracy like our’s to have a strong media. Having said this, my immediate concern is that they need better reporters as you will agree with me that some of the reporting is atrocious, after that I am definitely for expansion.

    Cheers.

  19. Dear Guardian,

    I agree with you that there is a lot to be desired of the reporters and the reporting quality of the BBS but I think you are being unfair in calling BBS a sinking ship. In my view m.v. BBS is still buoyant and very much afloat. What it needs is qualified people so that it is not managed as if it were the dog pound of Memelakha.

  20. Thinlay says:

    The problem with our corporations is that they are not managed by people with professional degree, especially MBA.

    Cheers

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