New rules for cable TV

These include limiting the hours of certain programmes like school concerts

Media: In a move that could elicit mixed reactions, media watchdog Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has limited local cable TV companies from airing school concerts to only two-hours a day.

In a directive issued earlier this month, BICMA will allow local cable companies from airing school concerts only from 11am-12 noon and 6pm-7pm.

The authority points in the directive that the airing of school concerts throughout the day is “monotonous and annoying”.

BICMA will also require cable companies to obtain a “no objection” letter from the school for the airing of the concert on TV. The companies will also be required to submit the programme to the authority for review and if found suitable, an approval will be provided.

The new rule will be welcomed by those who have questioned the ethics of airing such concerts, which are primarily composed of students dancing, to a wide audience when the concert was meant only for parents and students. Questions if permission had been sought from all parents and students being aired have also been raised.

Some of the dance moves being replicated and displayed and the lyrics of some of the songs have also been pointed out as inappropriate for students. The educational value of such items have also been questioned.

However, there are others who see nothing wrong in the dances and songs, and point out it is simply an extracurricular activity.

BICMA also now requires that only the trailers of certified films are aired and that these be limited to five times a day for each film. Airing of trailers should not exceed two-hours a day and be evenly spread out throughout the day.

While announcements from government agencies will be exempt from the preview process, announcements from the private sector, external agencies, individuals, financial institutions, and other non-governmental organization will have to be previewed by BICMA. The same applies for advertisements.

Government announcements issued in the public interest, especially during times of emergencies, can be aired at anytime and should be aired free of charge. However, programmes, even if from a government agency will not be exempt from the preview process.

“BICMA decided to introduce this interim directive on local channels to balance the content so that a variety of organised programmes are offered to viewers instead of just continuously airing school concerts or film advertisements,” the authority responded to this paper in an email. “The directive has also encouraged our cable operators to air educative and socially benefitting programmes, which could also include programmes for children and youth.”

It is also pointed out in the directive that cable operators must promote programmes that showcase Bhutanese tradition, culture, and values of Gross National Happiness. BICMA also encourages programmes where the national attire and national language are used, and limit those that showcase “prolonged use of foreign outfits and language”.

The authority will also require cable operators to submit a report every six months on the number and type of programmes aired.

On how BICMA will verify the reports, the authority responded that it will be working with other agencies. “There is definitely a need to gear up our efforts in the field of monitoring and compliance,” it is stated in the authority’s response. “We have already taken certain measures to monitor for compliance and one such step is strengthening collaborative regulation with other agencies like dzongkhags and thromdes, the Royal Bhutan Police and other relevant agencies,” it is added.

The authority also mentions that the directive is an interim measure until a concrete modality on the status and operation of cable television is developed which includes broadcasting rights.

“We feel that the time has come for us to do a comprehensive review of the local channels and see whether it has served its set objectives since its introduction in the cable TV,” the authority responded to this paper. A timeline on when this review will be completed could not be provided.

BICMA will be working together with the cable operators and other relevant agencies on the review.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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