BICMA Act 2006 to be scrapped

Media: The government is set to introduce a bill in the National Assembly that will realign and separate responsibilities of the government and the Bhutan Information Communications and Media Authority (BICMA), during the ongoing session.

The bill seeks to repeal the BICMA Act 2006.

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 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.

For instance, the BICMA Act is not seen as the most appropriate legislation to regulate places of entertainment. Therefore, separate and specific provisions for sub-sectors, such as entertainment and broadcasting have been proposed.

Chairperson of the Assembly’s legislative committee, Ritu Raj Chhetri, in an earlier interview said the Bill has been created to meet the needs of the changing times. “It’s brought to replace the current BICMA Act,” he said.

The proposed Bill aims to enhance professionalism in the media and ICT sector, promote cyber-security and streamline the licensing policy. The revision actually began in 2010.

According to the Bill, there will be a regulatory authority called the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority to carry out responsibilities entrusted under the new law. The authority, served by a secretariat, will be vested with decision-making and oversight of the authority, which shall comprise a chairperson, three civil servants and one member representing the private sector.

The authority will be empowered to grant licenses, certificates and permits, and regulate ICT and media facilities and services including places of entertainment. Such places of entertainment should be based on ICT and media facilities and services.

No legal proceeding or suit shall lie against any member or employee of the authority in respect of official duties done in good faith.

The Bill provides for establishment of a media council by the government, which will be an independent body.

The council will promote and protect freedom and independence of the media. It 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.

The council will promote professionalism among journalists and maximise their independence from proprietorial and other interference. At the same time, the council will ensure fair treatment of a person by the media.

The council will comprise representatives of journalists, the film fraternity, civil society organisations, and the Department of Information and Media, among others.

If the proposal comes through, Bhutanese journalists working for local newspapers or other media organisations should apply for accreditation in the prescribed form. Bhutanese journalists will also be allowed to work for foreign media organisations, for which the authority will operate a scheme of accreditation.

The conditions, privileges and procedure for application and the criteria for the grant of accreditation shall be specified in the rules and regulations the authority will formulate.

The Bill proposes that the authority should ensure competition and prevention of monopoly in the telecommunication and media sectors. The authority will specify eligibility conditions for granting of licenses to ensure that.

The Bill also imposes restriction on cross ownership of media and telecommunication enterprises.

If one person holds the majority share in one media house, he or she will not be permitted to hold more than five percent of shares in a “subsequent media house”. The same applies with respect to telecom enterprises.

The Bill says that foreign direct investment (FDI) in the ICT and media sector may be granted by the Cabinet after giving due regard to all circumstances including national interest and the prevailing FDI policy. However, this clause does not apply to the media sector relating to news.

The revised law is expected to generally reduce administrative burden on the government, regulator and the regulated. However, nominal financial implications are also expected owing to the establishment of new bodies such as the Media Council and Film Commission.

The total annual expenses including siting fees, salary, stationeries, and equipment are expected to cost more than Nu 6.4 million.

The Bill also prescribes the responsibilities and functions of the MoIC, which it says will develop and promote ICT and media sectors in the country. The ministry will be responsible for advising and supporting both the public and private sector on ICT and media related matters.

The ministry will formulate legislation, policies and plans.

MB Subba

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