Govt to not interfere with BICMA’s decision
The producer of the movie ‘Hema Hema: Sing me a song while I wait,’ Pawo Choyning Dorji has written a letter, dated 18th January to the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) pointing out what he sees as anomalies in BICMA’s decision to not certify the movie.
Listing out various reasons listed in the BICMA Act for a movie not to be certified like security sovereignty and stability, likely to lead to incitement of offence, violating rights and freedoms of others, affecting friendly relations with countries and disclosure of confidential information the movie producer said the National Film Review Board did not give any of the above reasons.
He said BICMA’s reason of not giving the certification was because the movie is ‘not in keeping with Bhutanese tradition and culture.’
The producer called on BICMA to share the rules which validate the ban on screening Hema Hema in Bhutan as they have been unsuccessful in their own attempts to find a successful explanation.
Pawo also pointed out that though the BICMA Act does not require certification of films being screened outside Bhutan, both Department of Culture and other senior elected government officials had accused the film of not getting a certificate from BICMA and thus breaking rules.
He also said that though as per the BICMA rules they should have been informed of BICMA’s decision within 7 working days it took a total of 22 days to inform them.
The letter says that rules and regulations are important in a young democracy and that the film makers are committed to respecting them, but that also government officials administering these rules have a greater responsibility to administer them fully and accurately.
The BICMA Director General, Chencho Dorji said that he is yet to formally receive the latest letter though the production house had withdrawn an earlier version of the letter. The DG said that the film makers can approach the BICMA Appellate Tribunal if they are not happy with the authority’s decision as BICMA would not be providing any more justifications.
The DG said, “I recently informed a representative of the movie that within 30 days they can appeal BICMA’s decision to the Appellate Tribunal.”
The BICMA Appellate Tribunal is independent of BICMA and has in the past reversed certain decisions by BICMA.
If the filmmakers still do not get their way in the Tribunal then the next approach is to appeal to the High Court and from there to the Supreme Court.
However, the film producer Pawo Choyning Dorji has announced his intention not to appeal the BICMA decision.
Explaining why he is not appealing Pawo said, “Rinpoche (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche) is seen as a privileged person in Bhutan and he does not want to make it seem like he is taking the easy way out. So we should let things take their own course. He wants to work within the system and in fact it is a good opportunity to show how the system works.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay commenting on the issue, in response to a question by the paper said that the government has not received any petition or request from any side on the BICMA decision.
Lyonchhen said that BICMA is an independent regulatory agency mandated by law to oversee the production of cinema in Bhutan and for those unhappy with BICMA’s decision there is already a due process of appeal.
Ruling out any direct government effort to review or change BICMA’s decision, Lyonchhen said that Bhutan is a country of rule of law which must be upheld. He said as long as certain laws are there they must be followed and if people don’t like a certain law then it must be changed.
He said what instead cannot happen is the government picking and choosing laws to apply them selectively on a case by case basis.
The current BICMA Act that oversees ICT, Media, Entertainment and the Film Industry does not give powers to the government to change or review BICMA’s decision. This is to protect the independence of BICMA as a Regulatory Authority. The Ministry of Information and Communication can issue broad policy guidelines in consultation with BICMA to BICMA but it cannot change or influence specific decisions of BICMA especially after they have already been made.
This would put to end for those hoping for a ‘government solution’ to the non-certification of Hema Hema.
Pawo said, “We respect the laws of the country and we do not expect the Honourable Prime Minister or the government to intervene.”
Addressing the controversy over the film being banned the PM said that it is good that people are aware and that is good for the country. He, however, also pointed out that the Film Industry in Bhutan has been working sucessfully together with BICMA for decades.
The PM also said that unless the governments feels there is something wrong that has happened there is no need to interfere especially when proper laws and processes are already in place.
Giving the example of BAFRA the PM said that the government cannot simply overrule BAFRA if BAFRA finds certain food to be unfit for consumption unless there are some vested interests or the information is wrong.
The BICMA DG said that the movie had been reviewed by an independent national film review board comprising of cross sectoral stakeholders and the recommendation was to seek further review on the issue of the religious masks from a relevant cultural agency.
BICMA sent the film for review to the Department of Culture which got back saying that the use of religious mask is not in keeping with Bhutan’s culture and traditions.
The BICMA DG, however, clarified that despite the recommendations from the film review board and the Department of Culture, the final decision was taken by BICMA on the issue.
In response to a question he also said that usually BICMA goes along with the film review board’s decisions except in rare circumstances.
The DG clarified that questions had been asked to BICMA on why it had allowed the movie to shoot in the first place after the script was given to it but he said BICMA had been given only a short synopsis of the film.
Earlier Pawo Choyning writing on the Facebook page of the movie said that the film which was made by a mostly all Bhutanese team, has been screened in some of the world’s most prestigious and storied film festivals and so on the international level, the film has been one of Bhutan’s best cultural and artistic ambassadors of the year.
He said that on the domestic level, it has reached out and connected young Bhutanese artists daring them to dream and create and giving them hope that something that they create, can also be screened on the platforms like the Festival del film Locarno and the Elgin & Winter Garden theatre of the Toronto Film Festival. Pawo said it has showed them that with hard work and dedication, their amateur creations can also win recognition amongst the established professionals of the world.
“This narrowed minded decision is not just a ban against the film but a decision against the freedom of expression and creativity in Bhutan. It has sent out a loud and clear message to all aspiring Bhutanese artists that in Bhutan there are boundaries to one’s dreams and to one’s creativity,” added Pawo.
The new ICM Bill which is a review of the original BICMA Act moves the film review and certification function from BICMA to an independent Film Commission.
The Film Commission according to the Bill shall be constituted with five members appointed by the Cabinet upon recommendation by the ministry for a three year term from amongst people who are knowledgeable in the field of film, media or people from relevant a background.