Talk shows off air

The authority asserts its authority over what’s broadcast over the airwaves 

Radio: It has been more than a month since the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) instructed private radio company Radio Valley to stop airing talk shows.

The reason being that Radio Valley only holds an entertainment license and not one for news.

As a result, the radio broadcaster has temporarily suspended talk shows like Good Evening Dasho Benji and Let’s Talk About It.

Radio Valley proprietor Kinley Wangchuk said that he had applied for a news license in 2011, when the authority pointed out the same regarding one of its talk shows, Scoop with Supe.

The radio stopped airing Scoop with Supe then, but continued with its other ones.  In the meantime, the radio did not hear from BICMA regarding its application for a news license, or on its continued airing of the other talk shows, said Kinley Wangchuk.

When the authority raised the issue again this year, Kinley Wangchuk said that he was informed that the radio would first have to agree to some terms and conditions to obtain a news license.

However, when these terms and conditions were shared with Radio Valley, the broadcaster did not agree with one of the clauses, which stated that any opinion aired by the radio would be treated as fact, said Kinley Wangchuk.  The radio requested that the clause be removed.

The issue has remained unresolved since then.

BICMA director Sonam Phuntsho explained that, as the broadcast component of the Information, Communications and Media Act lacked clarity, the regulator had to come up with new regulations, which took time.  In the meanwhile, to speed up the process, the regulator came up with an addendum, he said, referring to the terms and conditions presented to the radio.

He added that this addendum would now be reviewed by the BICMA authority, which is composed of six members.

The director also pointed out that BICMA’s mandate was to ensure the public and industry’s interests were protected, and for that the public’s, industry’s and government’s concerns have to be incorporated and balanced. “That’s why we have a very elaborate requirement to develop a rule,” he said.

On the clause requiring opinions being treated as fact by the authority, the director said that he would not comment, but pointed out that the process was not complete.  He added that the process was currently in consultation mode and that the BICMA authority would also have to deliberate the issue.

However, he also pointed out that there might be a possibility of the terms and conditions may not be accepted in the absence of rules, and the ICM bill due to be deliberated only in the winter session of parliament.

The Journalist Association of Bhutan (JAB) general secretary, Kinley Tshering, said that, while the association had not received an official complaint from Radio Valley, he disagreed with BICMA’s decision to take the talk shows off air.  He said that, while the information and communications ministry was putting resources and effort into training radio journalists, BICMA was creating hurdles.  He added that BICMA should instead be encouraging programs on current affairs or programs that provide public spaces for discussion.

JAB will reach out to BICMA, he said, if an official complaint was made to it by Radio Valley.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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