The National Assembly yesterday passed the Bhutan Information Communications and Media Bill 2016.

Forty of the 41 members present in the House voted “Yes” for the Bill, while one abstained. The bill, which seeks to repeal the Bhutan Information Communications and Media Act 2006, will be forwarded to the National Council for deliberation.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo thanked the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) and the legislative committee for their efforts in drafting the bill. “I hope that this Bill will benefit the country’s media sector,” he said.

The bill initially stated that a “film commission” would be established. However, the House decided that it was more appropriate to instead have a “film council”.

The government hopes that the Bill will realign and separate responsibilities of MoIC and the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA). Overlapping mandates of the two have often led to confusion.

This Bill also aims to allow functional and regulatory autonomy of the authority.

The need to replace the existing Act was felt in the face of changing times. The Bill also aims to address deficiencies in the current BICMA Act resulting from rapid technological changes in the ICT and media landscape, as well as in the socio-economic and political environments.

According to the Bill, BICMA would be headed by a chairperson, who must be a senior civil servant, appointed by the Cabinet on recommendations of the MoIC. The decision-making authority of BICMA will be vested with the chairperson, three civil servants and a member representing the private sector.

An independent body to be called Media Council, the aim of which is to promote and protect freedom and independence of the media, would also be established, according to the Bill.

The Council will 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. The Council will also hear complaints and settle disputes in relation to offences of media contents that are not criminal in nature.

The Bill aims to create and promote a Bhutanese information society and the right environment for vibrant growth of ICT and media sectors in the country. The government also says that the Bill, if approved, will ensure technology neutrality, convergence, innovation, private sector participation and competition in the development of the ICT and Media sectors.

Earlier during the deliberation, the information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said the bill would strengthen the capacity of BICMA to effectively regulate the ICT and media sectors. “It will also realign and ensure clearer responsibilities of the government and BICMA,” he said.

MB Subba