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.