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 …”