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Perspectives on Bhutanese Media Kinley Dorji between 2006-06 and 2006-08

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 Perspectives on Bhutanese Media
Kinley Dorji*
This group is largely Bhutanese media personnel. But we
understand, in the context of this media and culture seminar,
that we are also the custodians of Bhutanese culture. We have a
tendency to place ourselves into categories, giving ourselves
narrower roles in life. But it is time to climb out of this box and
take on the broader responsibilities that our changing society
demands of us.
Such a seminar gives us a new perspective of the Bhutanese
media. The media was previously understood as newspapers,
radio, and television. Then came the broader purview of film,
music, and the new electronic media like internet. Our scholars
now remind us of the centuries-old media that we had in
Bhutan- the mani walls, prayer flags, the festivals and dances.
This concept gives us a new depth of values to draw on as we
develop the Bhutanese media today.
Media is not a distant, neutral phenomenon. It is not just
technology. When we talk about Bhutanese media, we talk
about ourselves. And we are expressing values all the time. We
are cultivating the public mind. We are performing a public
When we talk about the role of the media, particularly in our
vulnerable society, we have to be conscious of our blatant and
inherent biases, be it religious, political, eliticism, gender, age,
and numerous other faults.
Media must help society to understand change and, in the
process, define and promote the right values, including public
Managing Director, Kuensel Corporation
 values. As this seminar reminds us we are responsible for
culture, happiness, liberty, spirituality, even survival of society.
Thus, the concept of public service media. In the past they talked
about public service broadcasting, then of the public service
media. Public service means balancing state control and the
lowest common denominator that we see in the commercial
media. In Bhutan public service must be a goal of all media, not
just state-owned media. And this means reaching the people on
their terms.
We talk of the role of media after 2008. In essence this role is not
new. The role of media in democratic governance has always
been to provide the public space for the people's views and to
initiate public discussion. As a developing country, of course,
we keep in mind our own priorities like our relations with other
We look at trends in the media. Media is very much a part of the
evolution of public culture. It is a force that helps shape public
culture. The small explosion of the Bhutanese media that we see
is good but that reminds us immediately of the need for
professionalism. Someone asked what freedom of expression
meant. In one word, freedom means responsibility.
We have to understand media in the context of GNH. GNH
requires that the people make important decisions. The role of
the media is to give them the information, to empower them, to
make those decisions.
This seminar also focussed on culture. Today we are trying to
understand culture, the living traditions that are evolving in
As we recognize the value of variety, our multiple community
 identities, we see the pluralism that we sometimes deny
ourselves. The ways in which diversity is recognized and valued
in civic and political domains raise important questions for
contemporary pluralist societies. National culture in Bhutan, as
someone said, can be seen as an amalgam of its different
community cultures.
When we talk of culture, uncomfortable issues come up. We saw
this during the public consultations on the draft Constitution.
The most vibrant debate has surrounded the issues of religion,
language, dress. One of the scholars was quoted saying,
"defining culture is an act of politics".
Through all this we hear the question, is Bhutanese culture
strong enough to withstand the forces of change?
We talk of public culture which has always revolved around
community life and religion. It has been pointed out that
technology changes the contours of existing public spheres. We
see a new significance and visibility in economic, political and
civic domains.
In Bhutan public culture is often understood as national culture
and has, for more than three centuries, been synonymous with
national identity. Public culture is changing every day and
change is giving birth to a new cultural identity. Our culture,
our identity now includes discotheques, nightclubs, pool rooms,
the process of urbanization. But, through all this, we must watch
the change in values more than the external changes.
The general consensus is also that public culture is perceived to
be under threat from globalization. And the mass media is a
On trends in media and culture I'll mention just the issues that
 are addressed by the seminar. Today there is a strong move to
promote Dzongkha, more than ever before. The strength of
Dzongkha is the realization that it is important for survival.
Significantly the new Bhutanese politics will be played out
largely in Dzongkha.
Some academics are also concerned that Dzongkha is borrowing
too much... a suicidal trend because excessive borrowing could
mean death. Others worry that Dzongkha is not borrowing
enough, that some universal words are acceptable.
There is also the proliferation of the music and film culture. But
these are catering to the masses and, therefore, reflecting the
lowest common denominator. And we have plagiarism on a
massive scale in our media industries.
Today we are mistaking sensationalism for freedom of speech.
That is why I stress the responsibility of the media.
We talk about advertising. Our friend from Holland tells us that
his company functions from an old Church. It strikes me that
our monasteries need to start doing some effective advertising
before they lose touch with the people, particularly the youth. I
mean, of course, healthy advertising.
It would be a wonderful counter to trained commercial
advertisers whose sole arm is to inflame our desires. In the
Buddhist context this desire is the cause of suffering. We all
agree that it is wrong but we do it anyway.
Advertising in Bhutan faces new challenges every day. We do
not advertise alcohol but what do we do when our elite and
international representatives take part in the Tiger Beer golf
tournament? We criticize the petty gambling during the fetes,
but what do we say about the large-scale online gambling
 approved by the government?
What should our response be to all this? Let us first get a
perspective. I believe that we do have a powerful counter if we
learn from our own intuitive capabilities. I use the example,
somewhat intrepidly, of Gross National Happiness. We have
sold it quite well, even before we have refined the product at
home. We have given Bhutan a brand name that is even better
than Shangrila and, of course, I am all for it.
One of our scholars gave us the provocative advice to ban
advertising on television. It's a great idea but advertising is here.
And the only answer is to produce our own advertising, target
our own audiences and, most important, do it with
The bottom-line is education, not just by the education ministry
but by the media. We learnt that the advertising budget
worldwide far supersedes the education budget. When we talk
about media literacy we must begin with media professionals, in
raising standards and professionalism.
And we start with our youth. But, as we have been reminded,
someone has to do some real hard work. Who will do this hard
work? We, the media.
At the helm of all this is the government. What is the role of the
government... especially an all pervasive government like ours?
I am a little concerned about the calls for government help and
subsidy. Seeking subsidy means trading independence. State
support is necessary but in the form of legislation,
infrastructure, newsprint, licensing fees, events and functions,
advertising, and other accepted forms.
 But the government has a critical role. Our government today
requires a more comprehensive media vision. We saw, for
example, the sudden start of television that caught society by
surprise and are understanding the impact only now.
The studies presented here, on the impact of media and impact
of television, are not new. They have been done over and over
again in other countries. We claim to learn from the mistakes of
others but we do not do the home work and sometimes do not
learn from our own mistakes.
The ICT centers around the country sound pragmatic and ideal,
particularly in an era of decentralization. They could foster new
community culture and enrich our public culture. But, even as
the Bumthang centre changed from NCPC to NTC to CMC, it
has not been able develop local content, to provide practical
information like the price of potatoes in Phuentsholing.
Someone suggested that the centre could deal with basic
problems like low computer literacy.
The media law is to be approved by the National Assembly.
There is a misconception that the media law will guarantee a
free media. It is the Constitution that guarantees freedom of
expression, freedom of media, and also gives government the
mandate to provide access to information.
The media law will touch on important issues like licensing to
ensure that there is no media monopoly, it sets rules for foreign
ownership and investment because the media is considered a
sensitive industry in every country.
With the media law will come regulations and the regulatory
body, BICMA, which actually needs more independence.
BICMA will have important functions including the monitoring
of print runs, distribution figures, and viewership statistics. It
 will need to monitor the powerful medium of advertising.
Corruption in media is a major issue everywhere and so is the
relationship between media owners, advertisers, editorial teams,
and management.
But the media law will not solve our problems. It is important
for the media to set our own standards and codes. Among
advisory bodies a media council could play an important role
and help diffuse many problems before they go too far. Codes of
ethics and practices must be established by media themselves.
A relevant question is, who is the government? A seminar like
this must acknowledge that is it us who must take the initiative.
We are a highly inter-connected society. Many of us have
multiple identities as decisions makers, media professionals,
government officials as well as critics both inside and outside
the system. It is the media that should take healthy initiatives to
the government.
I emphasize the interdependence, in fact the synonymity,
between media and culture. Our scholars have described this as
the means and end, the medium and the message. Together they
represent public culture. And we might ask what kind of a
cultural identity - and inevitably - national identity do we
present today?
In conclusion, I submit that the media story is Bhutan's story.
And, for us, this is just the beginning.


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