Regulating media content

Published on Jan 10 2010 // Media Monitor

The release of the new rules of content for media has defined what kind of media Bhutan is to have.

Many things that are not allowed according to the BICMA rules are perfectly legal and even accepted in some parts of the world.

Not to say that this means that our rules are overbear­ing. After all, laws should be custom-made just like de­signer clothes, for no two countries are exactly the same, just as no two people are exactly the same.

To achieve a perfect fit, what is needed is good mea­surement. In our case, it would be a matter of learning as we go, formulating new laws as we discover new wrongs that we, as a society cannot accept.

Drawing the line between what is simply not accept­able, and what certain groups consider as an affront to the society while it is really not any of their business is a tricky business, though.

While we would not accept pornography in our media, no question asked, it is legal in some parts of the world. It is a variance of what is acceptable and what is not to us as Bhutanese.

The Bhutanese media, so far, has an understanding of the society’s acceptance level, although nonconformists have attempted to test their audience’s reception now and again with especially bold releases, sometimes earn­ing the rebuke of BICMA.

Still, if ever some of our prominent personalities en­gage in a fistfight, even though this would interest the public, it is understood that it is not in the interest of the public to know about it.

Raising eyebrows on risqué content is different from naming certain things illegal, however. There is a need for the government to look seriously into the issue of freedom of expression, and there is a need for it to include it in this discussion, prominent journalists of Bhutan, at the very least.

The question is also the motive behind the regulation on media content. If the motive is protecting the audi­ence, then BICMA is attempting the feat of a caveman fighting the mammoth single handed, with stone-age weapons.

The volume of content the internet throws up on a dai­ly basis is like the mythical monster, the Hydra, which kept growing new heads every time one was chopped off. Meaning that fighting the internet content is truly a Herculean task. Add to that the millions of books that enter the country, the magazines, the radio and televi­sion content which cannot be cut to taste, only, perhaps, banned, if found not conforming to the rules.

If, along this line, BICMA decides to regulate interna­tional media, the present content rules would mean that very little books, television and internet would actually see the light of the Bhutanese day.

Take for instance, the international bestseller and many Bhutanese readers’ favourite book, ‘The Godfa­ther’, which would violate the BICMA rules of content in terms of explicit sexual content and violence.

But again, having a different set of rules for interna­tional media would mean accepting double standards.

The rules of content only serves to keep a trace of dignity in the local content at the moment. It should fall upon the media house to maintain that trace of dignity that the authorities are trying to inoculate, in the end. And it should fall upon the adults to monitor the kind of media that their children are exposed to.

We cannot have a system that allows only those con­tents that are suitable for children, simply because their parents might not keep them away from content that is unsuitable to them, but available.

(Bhutan Today editorial, January 9, 2010)