In six months, remote homes without network to access Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) television would get the service for free, the information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said at the National Council (NC) yesterday.

The minister after introducing the Bhutan Information Communications and Media Bill, 2017 was quizzed by the NC members.

NC deputy chairperson and Haa representative Tshering Dorji said without network,  remote households have to rely on satellite dish to watch the national television channel, which is illegal.

“Further, this has repercussions on the culture and the mindset of the people,” he said.

Lyonpo said the ministry is in the process of installing the ground station for the South Asia communications satellite, which is expected to complete in six months. The satellite was launched a year ago to benefit the SAARC region.

“We’re trying to install the ground station for satellite at the BBS compound,” he said. “The budget has been allocated and designs for the station are being made.”

Tshering Dorji said the government needs to categorise the media differently from entertainment and to reduce the tax on media companies, which at present pay 30 percent.

NC’s good governance committee reviewed the recommendations from the National Assembly and tabled the bill yesterday. The committee chairperson Tharchen said BBS would become a public or state broadcaster. “The bill does not specify whether it would be done through a Royal Charter or a bylaw,” Tharchen said.

Pemagatshel NC member Jigme Rinzin asked the minister for an update on circulation audit and ownership of media houses, among others.

Lyonpo said that the circulation audit was conducted last year but not all participated although the laws mandate every media house to take part in the auditing.

“Circulation auditing is critical for the government to understand how to help the media progress,” he said. “If they don’t cooperate then there is no way of knowing their problems or areas for government intervention.”

The minister said that the ministry has written to all media houses and asked them to participate in the circulation audit. The minister did not answer on what happens to those media houses that do not participate in the auditing or media ownership.

The information and media bill 2017 will repeal the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) Act 2006 and has new provisions to realign and ensure clearer responsibilities of the implementing and regulatory bodies.

Tharchen said that the committee consulted 13 individuals and organisations, and referred about six Acts of other countries.

He said that of the other changes to the National Assembly’s recommendations, the Good Governance Committee proposed six major changes to the Bill such as the deletion of the advisory body of the ministry, selection and the tenure of the BICMA board, and National Film and Media Commission, among others.

The minister said that the annual cost of establishing the National Film Commission is Nu 6 million and the Media Commission will need Nu 2 million a year.

“The revenue for the film commission after establishment will be from collection of fees and other charges,” the minister said.

The Council will continue its deliberations on the bill today.

Tshering Palden