The government is set to allow local commercial radio stations outside of Thimphu. Such radio stations will be allowed to broadcast in local languages.

There is no proper broadcast policy in the country at the moment. But a national broadcast policy that is under consideration states that the government would hold tenders for licencing of such radio stations.

In the first phase, a maximum of four such licenses will be issued, according to the draft policy, which has been drafted by the Department of Information and Media.

The commercial viability of such stations will be monitored closely and, depending on the results, consideration will be given to issuing additional licences.

“The local commercial stations may broadcast in local languages, provided that they shall provide at least 30 percent of their programming in Dzongkha,” the policy states.

At present, there are a small number of existing campus radios, based in university campuses, and licences have been issued to two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to develop local community-based stations. This has been done in a largely ad hoc fashion and in the absence of clear rules.

The draft policy allows campus and community radios to carry local news and current affairs content without meeting the stringent requirements for carrying news that apply to other media outlets. However, they shall be strictly prohibited from promoting any particular political party or interest, or from carrying material that denigrates ethnic groups.

The objective of community radios will be to serve a particular community. The primary objective of campus radios is to serve a particular university or college campus.

However, in appropriate cases, the interests of campus radios in also serving the local community surrounding the relevant university or college may be recognised.

Such radios may be able to access different sources of funding, including advertising, albeit subject to the overall restriction of 20 percent of the programme time or 12 minutes per hour. Advertisements will be limited to advertising regarding local matters, according to the draft policy.

Currently, there are a large number of cable operators across Bhutan, mostly operating in the capital and dzongkhag centres. They provide a bouquet of different international channels, as well as BBS.

The government, in its role as the representative of the public, retains policy-making and support roles in relation to the media in democracies. The Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) shall refrain from engaging in direct regulation of broadcasters while retaining a policy role.

The MoIC will continue to play various support roles in relation to the media such as supporting training for media workers, supporting studies relevant to the media, promoting infrastructure sharing and providing direct support to media outlets to develop local content.

MB Subba