Funding BBS

BBS News

The Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy and the BBS recently got together last week to organize a seminar on the nature and role of public service broadcasting in Bhutan.

The two-day seminar, which was meant to discuss public service media and broadcasting in general, generated a good deal of attention on the way BBS is organized and run. Such scrutiny is good for BBS’s health. In fact, it is vital, especially if the Kingdom’s oldest and main broadcaster is to achieve its vision of becoming “A trusted public service broadcaster of international standing …”

The BBS was delinked from the government and established as an autonomous corporation by royal decree on 1st October 1992. But after the introduction of parliamentary democracy, it’s role, vis-à-vis the government, has come under question.

So the seminar was timely. And its main recommendation – to include public service broadcasting in the BICMA Act, or to even develop separate legislation for it – should be taken seriously.

But what’s more important is to clarify where BBS stands. Is it a public service broadcaster? Or is it a government broadcaster?

The government has openly criticized the BBS’s coverage of its activities. The National Assembly has discussed the BBS’s mandate and powers on several occasions. And the speaker of the National Assembly has asserted that BBS must obey the government as they are owned and financed by it.

We should not be surprised. BBS is financed by the government. So the government and the ruling party may feel that they must question how the organization is run. The incentive to do so will come from BBS’s considerable influence – a media impact study has determined that BBS radio has the biggest reach, followed by BBS TV.

The BBS can never be independent as long as it has to depend on the government for funds each and every year. And its vision to become a “trusted public service broadcaster” will remain just that – a vision.

If BBS is to become a true public service broadcaster, it must be able to function with editorial and organizational independence, free from political and commercial interference. To achieve that, the first and most important step, is to create an adequate and sustainable source of financing, one that does not depend on the mood of politicians or businesses.

What BBS needs is an independent fund for public service broadcasting. And the government can easily establish one. The prime minister has recently said that the lottery business is “unethical and not in conformity with the GNH values” and that members of the cabinet “aren’t in support of this government or Bhutan being involved in the business of lottery.”

The government should not stop its lottery business. Instead, it should clean it up. And, use the proceeds from the business for an important cause: to make BBS “A trusted public service broadcaster of international standing …”


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  1. i completely agree with honorable OL that it would be almost impossible to get true editorial independence until the time that BBS is financially independent. Thus, BBS should try to reduce cost, come up with innovative idea to increase their revenue, and should strive to run BBS at least at break even point so that they don’t have to request fund from MOF. They should at least meet operational cost.
    And it will be very good if private channel comes up in the country who will then be able to broadcast without any fear of slashing fund by the government.

  2. Dear OL,
    You seem to have lost focus here. Please reflect why the BBS was established in the first place. BBS is a public service broadcaster with a national as well as a social mandate. As a fully owned arm of the government, its focus, editorial policies, broadcast content etc. must complement and augment the plans and aspirations of the government of the day. It was created for that very purpose. It does not have a commercial mandate.

    We may have moved from monarchy to democracy but the relevance of BBS in the context of why it was created so many years back has not diminished. The need for the BBS to play the role that it was originally created to play is still pertinent today, as it was, many years ago. And this will remain so until the end of time. The government needs a mouth piece – whether the BBS is going to continue to be that mouth piece or whether a new organization has to be created to carry on the task will depend on how tactful and responsive the management of the BBS is willing to be.

    If you are saying that the BBS no long needs to play the role it is supposed to, that is a different matter. Please say so. If that is the case, then we dissolve the BBS as a public service broadcaster and in its place we allow the starting of another one as a commercial venture with commercial objectives. This new organization should not receive any budgetary assistance from the government but generate its own funds so that it is able to pursue independent and divergent policies to that of the government.

    Dear OL, you are not being fair to the people of Bhutan. And, you are not being a responsible Opposition. As the PDP has recently asserted, you are a government-in-waiting and we expect that you act with responsibility and farsightedness. Please remember that we will not judge you on the basis of your opposition to every single opportunity you think you get to oppose the government – but on the basis of the quality of issues you take up.

  3. My straight view on BBS to go autonomy. If government really wants BBS to do well, why not go for IPO. I am sure BBS will do well both commercially and as a responsible media to keep public informed of the situation in Bhutan. As of now there is no scope for BBS to justify their stand as a media in a democratic country. What do others say.We should not use our media as medias in Burma/China/ or else where.

  4. Public service is not synonymous with the government of the day.

    The BBC is also a broadcasting service set up by the government, but it has guaranteed independence and the government cannot directly interfere. It therefore has no trouble at all criticizing the UK government or calling ministers to account when needed.

    Perhaps Bhutan should look at the BBC charter. Most European public broadcasters and many others around the world including NHK in Japan and Televisión Nacional in Chile were based on the BBC model.

    There are plenty of other good examples too, DR Denmark, AVS Germany, CBC Canada, etc.

    Or does Bhutan want to copy countries like China, whose broadcasters are basically a mouthpeice for the government and a propoganda machine? Not too healthy for demoracy.

    Public broadcasting, unless its independence is vigorously upheld, simply becomes a tool of the party in power and it’s vested interests.

    – S

  5. Public television and radios are still funded by the government in many parts of the world. This is believed to prevent control of the media by private sectors and corporations and hence prevent corruption…

    In America, Public TV was created 40 years ago because the public understood that the funding from advertisers and the profit motive put limits on commercial broadcasting. they saw that only a system freed from these restraints could openly criticize corporate power and reach those parts of our society that advertisers aren’t particularly interested in. BBS I suppose is doing that in Bhutan.
    Perhaps we don;t have that kind of problems in Bhutan, of corporations controlling the media . But we definitely have a problem of control.. by the Government if they are funding BBS. And that shouldn’t be the case…

    Don;t we have a media act about the freedom of decision making ? I think BBS should just follow that.

    Funds from lottery sounds like a good idea but I am not sure how reliable it is? And what will happen if they are not able to raise enough money through the lottery to run all the programs. where is the lottery going right now?

  6. Government-controlled media is a thing of the past, which neither serves the government nor the media itself. It is however understandable that those in power would try to keep the media under its grip for the media is the only public institution that can play the spoiler.

    If the true intention of the DPT government is to consolidate the democracy, then it must also see the long-term benefit of having an independent media (BBS included). After all who can guarantee that DPT would be in power forever. Having a strong media serves both the opposition as well as the ruling government.

    Otherwise, the ruling party has also the choice of making BBS its mouth piece.

  7. If the government wanted the BBS to be the mouthpiece of the RGOB, why would they have as the head of BBS a hard core PDP supporter. Maybe the OL get throw some light on this complex policy of the government.

  8. Dear Friends,
    We should also recollect why Ministry of Communication asked the MD of BBS to leave the service. That is because BBS is funded by government and government in power wanted to take a chance but i guess public is watching our first elected government to do justice and i guess they should prove themselves to survive in future.
    My only thought is if the new government really wants to justify their stand they should ask BBS to go IPO. I do not see funding a big problem if BBS goes public.

    May be public will desire BBS to stand like BBC to serve publice better.


  9. Broadcaster says

    I find some reason to discuss on the issue of BBS as it has been facing losses each year and that in itself says a lot about BBS. Firstly I agree with Guest that the BBS was initially set to serve the government in its development efforts and that is the reason why it was funded by the govt. But now time has come for BBS to stand on its own feet or else perish. If BBS has to take the role of being a medium of communication then it needs to have some autonomy. But at the same time BBS cannot receive funds from the govt. and do whatever it likes. So if the problem has to be solved the way I think should be as follows:
    1. BBS should source its investors and get funds to function by its own which means floating shares.
    2. The present BBS Board should be replaced with the new Board of Directors

    After the new management is put in place, it is up to the new management to work out. Let us see if it will sustain on its own. If not let BBS retire as now there are other media institutions to take its job. BBS cannot just be the money eater and remain without development. The quality of programs has not improved. It played a role those days but now we need to have new ways of doing things to suit with the time.

    So, I think the need for discussion on viability and performance of BBS is there but there is no point in blaming the govt. when BBS is totally funded by the govt.

  10. I wonder whether media, any media, be it government funded, private or public funded, remians non-partisians!!!; Afterall, media is run by people, and like it or not, people always have biased point of view. People argue that BBC is the best model but if we really analyse BBC it is always biased; Point of views reflects what Brits or Yankee want to say. Perhaps, we are chasing a Utopian dream when we discuss free and fair media.



  11. I fully agree that the BBS should enjoy the status of full autonomy in letter and spirit and should not have to express gratitude to the ruling govt. for financial support.
    Regarding the lottery and the PM”s exppression of it being against the GNH spirit – I would like to see action after speech.

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