BBS drafts public service broadcaster bill

Media: Having drafted a public service broadcaster (PSB) bill, the Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation (BBSC) is a step closer towards becoming a PSB.

The BBSC is already a PSB in principle. But the bill will guarantee the company’s status as a “true PSB”.

The draft document will be presented to the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC), which is then expected to table it in parliament. The draft will be refined through consultations with stakeholders.

The company currently meets about 50 percent of its recurring expenses from advertisements. But becoming a PSB would entail public funding for both current and capital expenses.

Information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said it would not be possible for the government to table the bill in the upcoming session, as it does not have the document ready. “We know the BBS is unofficially drafting a PSB bill, but we haven’t seen it,” he said.

If the current government is determined to make BBSC a PSB, it will still have three sessions in hand to do so after the upcoming budget session. “A PSB bill can be brought in the subsequent sessions,” said Lyonpo DN Dhungyel, indicating that the government has not dropped the plan.

The minister had told the National Assembly in December 2014 that BBSC would be a PSB. Since then, the company has been looking forward to its new status.

There is no clear law in the country in reference to state-owned media establishments. BBSC and Kuensel Corporation function as state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Normally, the mandate of a SOE is to make profit. However, the BBSC believes that the main mandate of the organisation should be to inform the nation.

The draft bill aims to make the BBSC a complete PSB that will work for public interest.

The need to make the BBSC a PSB was felt more after the introduction of democracy in the country. A PSB Act was felt necessary to prevent the BBS from becoming the mouthpiece of a political government.

However, there is no consensus that BBSC as a PSB will be free of political interference if the company continues to be funded by the finance ministry. A private media practitioner said that there should be an independent system of public funding that will not depend on the mood of the government officials.

Unless there is an independent system of funding, he said, “The government of the day will be able to influence the functioning of the BBSC.” He also said that the quality aspects of programmes and news should be taken into consideration.

The BBSC was delinked from the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) in 1992. But its employees think the company does not have a clear-cut identity either as a public broadcasting corporation or SOE.

“At the moment, the MoIC thinks we are a public broadcasting corporation, while the finance ministry thinks we are a state-owned enterprise,” a BBS employee said.

He said the company’s status has to be clarified for editorial independence. He also believes that a sustainable source of finance has to be guaranteed so that the company does not have to “beg the government”.

In the past, BBSC’s coverage of activities has been criticised by the government. The BBSC has also come under the scrutiny of the National Assembly.

Some parliament members believe that the BBSC should obey the government as it is funded by it. But others argue that the BBS is accountable to the state, not the government.

Meanwhile, making the BBSC a PSB is expected to pave the way for private TV channels in the country.

If a private TV channel is established, the BBSC as a PSB is expected to receive only public announcements that are not commercial in nature. For instance, such announcements can be about educating people on health and hygiene.

This, the BBSC believes will help it become a neutral broadcasting channel as they will be independent of government agencies and business houses.

Media houses often come under pressure from advertisers to carry positive stories of the advertiser.

MB Subba

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