The Bhutan Information Communications and Media Bill (ICM Bill), 2016 has taken a lengthy 237 page ICM Act of 2006 and reduced it down to a more upto date and simpler 78 page ICM Bill by removing many bye-laws and rules in the original Act.
The ICM Bill has also come up with reforms that would allow for more self regulation of content by the Media through the Media Council and the Film Industry through the Film Commission.
In doing so the overburdened Bhutan Info-Comm and Media Authority (BICMA) has been given a more focused regulatory role removed from its earlier roles.
The Bill says that the Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) will establish an independent body called the Media Council for eight specific functions.
Two important ones are to serve as a standard-setting body and regulate and curtail harmful, offensive, illegal antithetical content on the internet, ICT and media services and hear complaints and settle disputes in relation to offences of content not amounting to criminal offences.
Others are promoting and enhancing ethical and professional standards among journalists and media enterprises, maximize independence of editors and journalists from proprietorial and other interference and provide recommendations on matters affecting the media.
The Council will also ensure objective and fair treatment of any person by the media and protect general public and more specifically vulnerable sections of the population such as children and young persons from undesirable influences of all media services.
The Minister shall appoint the members of the council consisting of one person nominated by an organization representing journalists, one person nominated by an organization representing the film sector, one eminent private lawyer nominated by the ministry, one member nominated from among the Civil Society Organization by the Civil Society Organization Authority and the head of the Department of Information and Media.
The members have a term of three years and cannot be a member of a political party or have a criminal conviction. In the first meeting the members through a secret ballot will elect a Chairperson. Members can be reappointed for one additional term only.
Any person aggrieved by the decision of the Media Council within ten working days can appeal to the Appellate Tribunal.
The Bill says the minister shall establish the Film Commission responsible for the promotion, development and for providing support to the audio visual and film industry in the country.
An important role of the Commission will be to review and certify films based on established criteria in the rules and regulation approved by the Ministry.
It will also grant filming permits only after coordinating and obtaining location and sectoral clearances as may be required within a specified time period and for which the sector concerned shall ensure timely issuance of clearances.
Apart from that it will promote training and capacity development, promote Bhutan internationally through film, promote theatrical performances in all sections of society and be responsible for all matters thereto.
The Commission will be supported by government support, royalties and filming permit fees, review fees, international donors, entertainment tax, equipment rentals and other fees.
The Film Commission shall be constituted with five members appointed by the Cabinet upon recommendation by the ministry from amongst people who are knowledgeable in the field of film, media or people from relevant background.
Members will have a three year term and can elect a Chairman from amongst them in the first meeting.
There will be a secretariat of the Film Commission headed by an executive who along with other employees will be appointed by the Royal Civil Service Corporation.
There will be a Film Development Fund managed by the Commission to support the production of innovative and meaningful films.
Any appeal against the Film Commission can be submitted to the Appellate Tribunal
A major change in the Bill is that BICMA’s vast regulatory roles has been reduced to more general and focused areas but it still exercises vast regulatory powers in the ICT and Media field.
BICMA will consist of a Chairperson, three civil servants and one member representing the private sector and will be served by a Secretariat headed by a Director or Director General who will also be its member secretary and head the administration of the Authority. The Chairperson will be a senior civil servant appointed by the Cabinet for three years.
The Authority will exercise complete regulatory independence and not receive instructions to its functioning from any government or private organizations.
The Authority will grant licenses, certificates and permits and regulate ICT and media facilities and services including places of entertainment, enforce license conditions. It will regulate and monitor compliance with national standards and international or other obligations entered into by the government in relation to ICT and media matters.
It will regulate interconnection or sharing of infrastructure between ICT facility providers, maintain and promote competition to prevent anticompetitive behavior, ensure licensees provide services free of undue delay and impediment.
It will ensure proper maintenance of accounting systems by public ICT providers and media service providers and assign spectrum consistent with spectrum policy. It will ensure universal access to all ICT services at affordable rates and provide an effective and affordable mechanism for investigation and resolution of complaints.
The Authority can collect data and statistical information, determine tariff rates and fees, issue and enforce guidelines of practice governing ICT and media sectors and have other powers as may be prescribed by rules.
It can also ask its licensees for business related information, can set up special technical expert bodies, regulate competition, issues codes and guidelines and develop rules and regulations.
The Authority can also hear complaints for contravention of provisions of the Act.
The Ministry shall set up the Bhutan Information Communication and Media Appellate Tribunal to act as an appeal body empowered to adjudicate cases against the decision or orders of BICMA, Media Council and the Film Commission.
The Tribunal shall comprise of three members well versed in the field of ICT, law or administration for 10 years, be 35 years of age and be appointed by the minister in accordance with the rules and regulations developed by the ministry.
A party aggrieved by the decision of the Tribunal may file an appeal to the High Court within ten working days.