The government has introduced a new bill that seeks to repeal the Bhutan Information Communications and Media Authority (BICMA) Act 2006, in the National Assembly.

Presenting the bill in the house, chairperson of the legislative committee and Tashichholing MP, Ritu Raj Chhetri, said the committee held numerous consultation meetings with stakeholders on the bill before it was tabled in the house.

The Bill is expected to realign and separate responsibilities of the government and the BICMA.

Overlapping mandates of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) and BICMA have often led to confusion. This Bill is also expected to allow functional and regulatory autonomy of the authority.

The Bill was tabled because the existing Act of 2006 had to be revised in the face of changing times. The Bill also aims to address deficiencies in the BICMA Act 2006 resulting from rapid technological changes in the ICT and media landscape, as well as in the socio-economic and political environments.

During the deliberation, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi submitted that a department within the information and communications ministry would be able to carry out the roles of a Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority and that the latter was not required. “If we are committed to maintaining a small and compact civil service, a department under the ministry will be able to execute the roles of the authority,” Dorji Wangdi said.

However, the house resolved that the media authority to be headed by a chairperson was required. The decision-making power of the authority will be vested with the chairperson, three civil servants and a member representing the private sector.

The chairperson should be a senior civil servant, appointed by the cabinet upon recommendation of the information and communications ministry.

Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk said an independent authority was required to regulate the media industry and that it was not appropriate for the information communications ministry to carry out that role. “It won’t be appropriate for the ministry to be a media regulatory authority if the rights and independence of the media are to be protected,” he said.

The bill also seeks to establish an independent body to be called Media Council, the aim of which is to promote and protect freedom and independence of the media.

The council will also serve as a standard-setting body and regulate or curtail harmful, offensive, illegal or antithetical content on the internet and other ICT and Media services, unless otherwise provided under specific provisions in this Act.

The council will also hear the complaint and settle disputes in relation to offences of content not amounting to criminal offences, which are prescribed under the Rules and Regulations.

The house will continue deliberation on the bill on Friday.

MB Subba