A lot of the current debate around the non-certification of the movie ‘Hema Hema’ has focused on the issue of creative freedom in Bhutan, centering around films.
However, the issues at hand are much more complex than just this with this incident touching on and revealing various aspects of our society and governance in Bhutan.
It is very easy to paint BICMA as the villain of the piece, and many media houses may in fact be tempted to do so given that BICMA is also a media regulator.
The easy and swashbuckling solution here seems for the government of the day to come riding in a shining armor as the champion of Bhutan’s artists and social media commentators and somehow get BICMA to certify the film.
On the other hand this approach would be making the problem worse as it would potentially not only violate the law, but also compromise an autonomous regulatory institution which serves other important functions apart from film certification.
The long term and more appropriate solution is to change the structures and laws following due legal process, instead of handling such cases based on a case by case approach. Here, the ICM Bill currently in Parliament already recommends an independent Film Commission with members from film and media backgrounds to review films.
There can be no debate that BICMA’s final decision based on recommendations by the film review board and the department of culture is a very conservative one, and it would have been better to let the film screen, whatever the cultural objections, imagined or real.
At the same time the solution here cannot begin and end with a media and social media campaign of indignation that is not getting any concrete results.
First of all, the film makers, whoever they may be, should exhaust the administrative and legal processes in Bhutan. By giving up at an early stage they are not really testing the checks and balances within the larger system or even the freedoms and limitations within it.
At a societal level the very conservative views of the cross-sectoral national film review board members and the department of culture members, are from the very people in our society. In a related matter, it was also revealing during the Gups conference to see some Gups advocating stronger implementation of Driglam Namzha codes. Despite being a mainly meat eating country the majority in the country was against lifting the holy month meat ban a few years ago on religious grounds.
Bhutan, at its heart, is still a largely traditional and some would say, conservative society. The challenge for our young democracy is, while recognizing this reality, to also accommodate the new and growing liberal voices and inevitable changes through the existing democratic framework and the principle of rule of law.
Liberalism is assisting quality of life, whatever you may choose.