Thank you

A couple of late meetings prevented me from watching TV last night. So I watched BBS TV’s rebroadcast this morning. In particular, I watched Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, the officiating prime minister, and Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu, the finance minister, talk about the current economic situation.

I thank the government for going on national TV to explain the ongoing currency situation to the public at large. The two ministers are our most experienced financial experts. The two of them have served as finance ministers for a combined total of 14 years, and as finance secretaries for more than 10 years. So they are very qualified to speak on the rupee crunch, and to allay the public’s growing fears on the state of our economy.

I also thank the prime minister, who is in New York attending to other pressing matters, for deputing the officiating prime minister and the finance minister to address the nation on his behalf. The fact that the government has eventually addressed the nation at a time when our people’s confidence has been shaken is welcome and appreciated.

So, on behalf of the people, and without getting into the specifics of what was said on TV, I offer a sincere thank you to the government.

Big blue

Obviously big

My oversized jaws continues to be the brunt of many jokes. Replying to my last post ‘nagilabgey’ answered that “OL’s jaws” are the second largest structure in Thimphu!

My jaws are big, but they’re not that big. They certainly are not the second biggest structure in Thimphu. That distinction belongs to the BBS radio tower in Sangaygang. The BBS tower, measuring about 41 meters, was built in the 1980s to transmit shortwave radio waves. Since 1999, the tower has been used to broadcast TV and FM signals in addition to shortwave radio.

Actually, I had another structure in mind when I asked which was the second largest structure in Thimphu. I’d been thinking about the huge scaffolding in the Changlimithang stadium. Okay, I found out that it’s shorter than the BBS Sangaygang tower. Still, at about 35 meters, it’s impressive. And it’s ugly.

The scaffolding was erected, reportedly at great expense, to carry the gigantic thongdrel of Guru Rimpoche during the Royal Wedding last year. The thongdrel, the world’s largest, is awe inspiring. And viewing it is a singular blessing. But without the thongdrel, the huge scaffolding structure looks odd, and it looks ugly. More importantly, it occupies valuable space at the Changlimithang stadium.

For the sake of sports, if not for beauty, the scaffolding should be dismantled as soon as possible.


Observing anticorruption day

Here’s how I observed International Anticorruption Day yesterday:

One, I went through Transparency International’s Corruption Perception index report for 2011. Bhutan is rated 5.7 (10 means perceived to be very clean; 0 means very corrupt) and is ranked a decent 38 out of the 182 countries and territories that were studied. Bhutan’s rating of 5.7 remains unchanged from the 2010 corruption perception levels. Not bad, but we can, and must, do better.

Two, I tuned in to see BBS’s live debate on the topic “Is Bhutan doing enough in fighting corruption?” The debate, which was organised jointly with IMS, had six panelists, all honourable members of the Parliament. The debate would have been a lot more meaningful if the panelists were chosen to defend two different sides of the motion – one team contending that Bhutan is doing enough to fight corruption; the other arguing that Bhutan is not doing enough.

Three, I closed my poll that asked “Is ACC taking too long to start investigating the Gyelpozhing land case?” The big majority – 300 of the 352 who took the poll – answered “yes” the ACC is taking too long.

Four, I drafted a letter to the ACC encouraging them to investigate and resolve the Gyelpozhing land case as soon as possible. The case is significant as it raises serious questions on the conduct of our senior-most public officials, many of whom hold powerful offices. Did they, for example, violate laws in the way that land was acquired and distributed? And was conflict of interest standards compromised by senior officials who applied for and received land?

Five, I drafted a letter to the Royal Audit Authority requesting them for a copy of their report on the special investigations that they carried out on the lottery operations. I had asked for the report in June this year, but was denied it. I’m hopeful that, for the sake of transparency and accountability, the RAA is now prepared to make the report public.

Live TV

The sixth session of the Parliament has concluded. And again, during this session too, the National Assembly did not allow its proceedings to be broadcast on live TV.

But this time, the Assembly allowed the Question Hour discussions to be carried on live TV.  That’s a slight improvement. And I welcome it. And hope that, from the next session on, BBS will once again be allowed to cover the National Assembly’s entire proceedings on live TV.

On a related note, BBS’s own efforts at covering the Parliament’s discussions seem to have regressed. Till the last session, BBS would, after their evening news, organize live panel discussions on important issues that were being debated in the Parliament. This time I didn’t see any panel discussions on topical issues emerging from the Parliament. They seem to have stopped.

This is unfortunate. The live panel discussions were well attended, especially by viewers throughout the country. And the discussions were widely considered to be among BBS’s more popular segments.

So as we conclude the sixth session, I offer a quiet prayer: that henceforth the National Assembly allows its entire proceedings to be broadcast on live TV; and that BBS revives their live panel discussions.

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 …”

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: [Continue Reading…]

Remote control

So, BBS has not been permitted to broadcast live coverage of most of the proceedings of the fourth session of the National Assembly. Only the opening and closing ceremonies, and the discussions on the Anticorruption Commission’s annual report will be broadcast live. This is how it was in the National Assembly’s third session. And, like then, I am still concerned that the independence and freedom of the nation’s only TV station is being compromised.

But what I recently read in the Kuensel got me even more concerned. BBS’s general manager was quoted as saying: “MoIC wants us to submit a proposal for NA coverage and we did it.” The article goes on to state that the BBS “…are yet to hear from the ministry.”

BBS should be regulated by BICMA, not MOIC. And, BBS should be managed by its Board of Directors, not by MOIC.

Turn on that switch!

The signal stops here

The signal stops here

It’s been one week since the National Assembly discontinued live TV coverage of its proceedings. And most of us have now resigned to the fact that the National Assembly’s discussions are not broadcast on live TV.

Not our villagers though. I still receive calls to appeal, on their behalf, for resumption of live coverage – on radio and TV – of the Assembly’s proceedings. Today, for instance, Tashi Gyeltshen telephoned me. Tashi is from remote Merak in Trashigang. And he’s a yak herder. He called to tell me that he wants to listen to the Assembly sessions on his radio. And, that he misses watching the sessions on live TV when he visits his gewog centre.

Incidentally, that TV set, complete with satellite dish and generator, was installed by the government to increase the public’s participation in the democratic process. In fact, every one of our 205 gewogs, including the remotest ones, were similarly equipped to allow our people to learn about and contribute to His Majesty the King’s vision of a vibrant democracy.

And then there are the BBS cameramen. Three of them are still stationed strategically, to cover every moment of the Assembly’s debates. They don’t sit. They can’t sit. They are on their feet, hours on end, operating their cameras that send live TV signals to the outdoor broadcasting van parked outside the Parliament. All that prevents the TV signals from going any further is the microwave transmitter switch in the OB Van.

Turn on that switch, and the TV signals would be instantaneously transmitted to the signal receiver tower in Sangaygang. From there, fibre optic cables would carry the signals to the BBS’s National TV Centre in Chubachu, where  the satelite earth station would beam them to INSAT4 A, an Indian satellite that BBS is allowed to use free of charge. That satellite would beam the signals right back to earth, and to Merak, where the live TV images would be received on their satellite dish. And, viewed by Tashi Gyeltshen the next time he visits his gewog centre.

On behalf of all the Tashi Gyeltshen’s in all our villages, I appeal to our honourable speaker and the members of parliament to allow the resumption of live TV and radio broadcast. And on behalf of the media I say: let BBS turn on that switch!

Wanted: live TV

The poll on the National Assembly’s decision to ban live TV coverage for most of its proceedings attracted considerable interest. But with 292 of the 315 participants (that’s 90% of them) disagreeing on the National Assembly’s recent decision, our readers’ views are clear. Only 23 voters (7%) supported the ban. And 10 people admitted that they really didn’t care.

The public outcry against the National Assembly’s decision is obvious. And I’m not just referring to our poll. BBS has shown many people, from various walks of life, all denouncing the restrictions imposed on BBS TV’s live broadcast. Yet, the National Assembly shows no sign of reconsidering its decision.

This is a very serious matter. And we cannot just ignore it. But what can be done? To begin with, write to your member of the National Assembly. Tell them that the ban is not good for democracy. And that you expect them to reconsider their decision.

The media also needs to do something. If they feel that the ban undermines free media, and that it is illegitimate, then they must demand that BBS be allowed to continue with the live telecast. And if their demands are not met, they should be ready to take the matter to the courts.

I’ll meet with the media to seek their views.

Our next poll is on the performance of our government. On the first day of the Parliament’s third session, our PM spoke extensively on the successes of the government. I wish to know what you think.

Breaking news

A truely upper house

Truly upper house

The National Council has decided that their proceedings will continue to be telecast live on BBS.

I’m hopeful that the National Assembly members will reverse their earlier decision to ban live TV broadcast for most of their sessions.