The narrative of civil society organisations (CSO) in Bhutan is new, yet there has been a rapid growth of CSO in Bhutan after the advent of democracy, especially since 2010. There are today 47 registered CSOs, mutual benefit organisations and public benefit organisations put together. Many yet are trying to understand and articulate their vision and place in the society so that they get support of the government and public at large.
After the remarkable transition from monarchy to democracy, what became clear is that people needed to be educated and encouraged to be responsible citizens. In 2008, when Bhutan became the youngest democracy, it was followed by proliferation of media houses. Because it is the responsibility of media to foster the culture of democracy, careful intervention was felt necessary. If a GNH-inspired democracy that is vibrant is what the nation must aim for, citizens ought to be engaged to nurture democracy in Bhutan through civic engagement, public discourse and media literate citizens.
This is how Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) was born. BCMD is today one of the CSOs in the country that works with a cross section of society on issues that concern youth, environment, society, governance and education.
BCMD’s programme areas are aimed at strengthening the development of citizens to understand that democracy is more than the act of voting every 5 years. Through varied activities, therefore, engaging particularly young people who are seen as agents of change, BCMD tries to reinforce the understanding that their daily actions, thoughts, and views are critically important for the success of democracy. Encouraging young people, teachers and local leaders to act as bridge for strengthen civic engagement, the centre’s core focus, among others, has been on strengthening civic engagement and encouraging youth and people’s commitment to participate and contribute to the improvement of their community.
BCMD trained 200 gewog administrative officers in 2014, who are now sharing ‘important discoveries’ from villages on public domain. The centre also piloted media sensitisation with women in the villages and locally elected leaders.
The centre encouraged establishment of media clubs and citizens’ journalism. Workshops were held for local leaders on media and democracy literacy/civic education. The centre continues to focus on producing resources and content for teachers, parents, political parties, students, and members of civil society to deepen their understanding of democracy.
To sensitise people to democratic ideas, discussions and thinking, BCMD publishes a regular newsletter called Mi-Khung. It is one of the forums where share and discuss stories of challenges and successes. Because expansion of public discourse is important in a democratic society, BCMD’s focus has for the past few years been on encouraging discourse on issues related to civil society, media and democracy, among others. The centre trained young people, civil society members to express their views through writing to the press, blogging and creating media content to amplify civil society voice. It also encourages promotions of open civic dialogues among thought leaders, journalists, civil society, and to develop forums/dialogues where differing viewpoints can be made to work towards a common understanding of an issue.
BCMD’s innovations to strengthen a culture of democracy in Bhutan
• Media dialogue and fellowship for journalists resulted in investigative reports on rural-based stories. Sherubtse College’s journalism school received support to enable young people to tell stories of change.
• The centre’s Youth Initiative programme focused on inspiring youth leaders to take action for positive change in the society. From the centre’s community mapping in Paro, it was discovered that Bhutanese youth have aspiration for a bright future and are ready to commit themselves to action to that end. Community mapping has helped encourage practice of democratic problem solving and citizen action.
• The centre continues to produce Bhutan-centric resources – videos and publications – to prompt discussion and thinking on issues that concern the survival of a small nation in a globalized world.
The mission of BCMD is to nurture democracy in Bhutan through civic engagement, public discourse and media literate citizens.
A GNH-inspired vibrant democracy that engages all citizens
BCMD believes in the power of ideas and openness to change the world. We believe that Bhutanese society is capable of making Gross National Happiness a reality through a vigorously contested and transparent set of elected institutions, a professional media and literate society, social justice and equity. Within the organization, we believe our team members are our assets, and we uphold innovativeness, integrity, accountability and teamwork.
● To create a responsible citizenry that will actively engage in the practices of democracy.
● To strengthen the professionalism of the media and help educate both media professionals and their audiences as to the role of the media in building a democratic society.
● To create public spaces for civic discourse.
● To create multimedia resources for/on media and democracy and promote their distribution.
● To strengthen the institutions of civil society, most of which are newly created.
With support from Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD)