The representative from Panbang constituency, Dorji Wangdi, solicited clarifications from the communications minister on the government’s plan to allow private television channels by changing the status of Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS), the country sole and state owned TV channel, to a Public Service Broadcaster (PSB).
“If the government plans to allow private broadcasting service, it is matter of great concern for us,” said the Panbang representative. “If the government approves privatisation of TV channels the country will be vulnerable to politically biased persuasion depending on the proprietors’ affiliation to a political party.”
The communications minister, D N Dhungyel, said the government has no role in the plans to change BBS’s status to PSB and that such plans were on since 2012. Then government control over the station was the issue since the station is fully funded by the government.
“Since the broadcasting channel does not have a clear status at the moment, BBS approached the ministry and requested for a status as a Public Service Broadcaster to perform their mandated duties effectually,” the minister said.
He said the ministry was recently informed by BBS that it is in the process of drafting a Bill, with the help of consultants from outside, to change its status to a PSB station. “The ministry hasn’t been involved in the discussion or any consultative meeting of the drafting of PBS bill by BBS so far,” Lyonpo Dhungyel said. “The government hasn’t approved or rejected such plans because the bill hasn’t been put forward right now. We will be working according to the rules of procedure once BBS submits the draft bill to us.”
He also said that the government doesn’t have any plans to allow privatization of TV channels or to speak with any certainty at the moment that BBS will be become a PBS, as everything is at an initial stage.
Panbang representative Dorji Wangdi said that he was shocked to hear the government is not aware of the details regarding the drafting of the PSB bill by BBS. “Only two bills, government bill and private bill, can originate in the parliament. If BBS, as a government corporation, is drafting a PSB bill we feel that such moves are triggered by the cabinet (Lhengye Zhungtshog) or else no government corporations has the right to draft a bill independently.”
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said the government was not completely unaware of such a bill being drafted. “We just wanted to ensure the independence of the organisation and everyone should rather appreciate that the government is promoting press freedom by not meddling in the drafting of the bill,” said Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay. “BBS felt there is every possibility that governments in the future might interfere in the functioning of the organisation which is why the PBS bill is being drafted.”
He also said that government has not approved the privatization of TV channels because the existing print media is already suffering and the government is worried that private broadcasting channels will face the same fate.
If BBS does turn into a PBS it opens up the sector to private TV channels according to the national broadcasting policy.
The BBS management said they are in the process of drafting a Bill with the help of a consultant in the U.K and that it’s likely to take time.