Setting the ethical bar

Published on Jan 06 2010 // Media Monitor
By Phuntsho Choden

January 06, 2008 – Involving a minor, below 18 years, in any form of Bhutanese media without the consent of the parent or guardian will be an offence, according to the rules on content for Bhutanese ICT and media industry. The content rules on 12 sections, including violence, children, nudity, religion, language, crime and advertisements, was recently endorsed and released by the Bhutan info com and media authority (BICMA).

BICMA officials said that the rules were issued to ensure good standards of content disseminated by the Bhutanese ICT and media service providers to the society.

A section on children’s content also covers the animated form of storytelling. Animated content for children should not portray violence as its central theme and should not invite dangerous imitation. Content designated specifically for children should be closely supervised, states the content rule.

BICMA’s legal officer, Ugyen Penjore, said that the rules were initiated in 2008. He said that several meetings were held with relevant stakeholders before the rules were finalised. “The rule covers all aspects of ICT and Bhutanese media and will serve as a guide towards upholding the standards expected of Bhutanese media in a practical and feasible manner,” he said. “It’ll assist media houses to develop their own in-house ethics or code of conduct.”

Portrayal of violence would be allowed in the media only with appropriate editorial judgment. The rule states that viewers must be cautioned before showing scenes of extraordinary violence, or graphic reporting on delicate subject matters with appropriate warnings.

There are also several regulations on crime including one, which prohibits the broadcast of detailed descriptions or demonstrations of criminal techniques, which could enable the commissioning of crime, unless editorially justified.

Suicide stories are usually left to the editorial guidelines of individual media houses. The rule, however, says that detailed description of the means or method of suicide must be avoided.

Suicide should be handled with discretion and care, and not be glamorised, states the content rule. Indecent content, such as explicit nudity and sex, should not be shown under any circumstances, unless approved by the authorised authority.

The rule also says that content should not encourage or in any way lead to discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, age, disability or occupational status.

Several rules on advertisements have also been laid. Promotion of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and other intoxicating materials through media advertisements is prohibited. Any political advertisements should follow the election advertising regulation of Bhutan. The rule also states that Bhutan’s breastfeeding policy encourages exclusive breastfeeding for the first three months of a baby’s life. There will be no advertisements of food substitutes, such as milk formulas and processed foods for children under-five years of age.

Use of offensive words, blasphemy and depiction of explicit sexual activity are also prohibited. Contents that might incite religious, ethnic, regional or communal conflicts are also not allowed. The content rule also states that extreme caution should be exercised in handling themes or scenes, which depict sex and violence, including rape or other sexual assaults.

If conflicts arise on the interpretation of the rules on content, the authority has the powers to interpretation, said the BICMA legal office.

Content providers should protect people’s privacy, uphold social values and acknowledge the need for transparency and accountability, according to the rule.

From Kuensel