There are no immediate plans yet to approve a private television channel, information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said yesterday at the National Assembly.

“The government hasn’t thought of allowing a private TV channel as of today,” he said in response to a question from Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi, who asked about the government’s stand on the issue.

Dorji Wangdi cautioned the house about the risks associated with licensing of a private channel. That said, he also added that he was not against having a private TV channel.

The state, he said, has invested billions of Ngultrums into BBS and that if Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) becomes a public service broadcaster (PSB), there were fears that state resources would be drained from BBS to the private channel. He added that such a move could stifle and slowly kill the state broadcaster.

Another risk, he said was about ‘politically vested licensing.’ “There is a huge stake on reporting freely and fairly impacting the credibility of the media. We should first put in place a new Bhutan information, communications and media Act (BICMA),” he said.

The ongoing session of the National Assembly is expected to pass a new BICMA Bill that seeks to repeal the BICMA Act 2006. The Bill was introduced by the information and communications minister last year but was withdrawn to be re-introduced this year with some changes.

Lyonpo DN Dhungyel, however, informed the house that a PSB bill was being finalised by BBS. The bill will be submitted to the information and communications ministry and subsequently the Cabinet for review and approval.

“BBS have asked for a PSB status. The mandate of BBS will be clear if it becomes a PSB,” he said, adding that the state-owned broadcaster today does not have a clear status. However, he said the government was not involved in the drafting of the bill, which started in 2012.

The prime minister said the government would look into the merits and demerits of the PSB bill and introduce in the Parliament if the government feels that making BBS a PSB would be in the country’s interest. “The state has been providing BBS enough funds,” he said.

Transformation of BBS into a public service broadcaster will pave way for a private TV channel in the country, according to a draft national broadcasting policy.

Once the government allows a private TV channel, BBS as a public service broadcaster is expected to receive only public announcements that are not commercial in nature. BBS as a PSB will have clear limits on the overall amount of funding that it may obtain from commercial sources. A PSB get its funds via public sources.

The company currently meets about 50 percent of its recurring expenses from advertisements. Also, the draft National Broadcasting Policy that seeks to transform BBS into ‘a true public service broadcaster’ is under the review of Gross National Happiness Commission.

Being a state-owned media house, questions are often raised on its independence in terms of management and content. BBS employees however believe that the main mandate of the organisation should be to inform the nation.

The government during the Parliament session in December 2014 announced that BBS would be a public service broadcaster.

According to the draft National Broadcasting Policy, BBS will be required to carry a certain amount of public service announcements for free, for example three to five percent of airtime.

If approved, the national broadcasting policy will allow the licensing of one private, commercial television channel. “In due course, and once commercial viability issues have been assessed, consideration will be given to introducing a second channel,” it states.

BBS was delinked from the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) in 1992. Its employees said the company does not have a clear identity either as a public broadcasting corporation or a state owned enterprise.

Becoming a public service broadcaster would help BBS become a neutral broadcasting channel, as they will be independent of government agencies and business houses.

MB Subba