TV channels chopped off again

Published on Dec 29 2009 // Media Monitor

December 29, 2009: The Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Authority (BICMA) has again cut off over a dozen foreign television channels from Bhutanese cable lines last week.

With this order, the Bhutanese cable operators are allowed to distribute only 40 television channels.

The restricted channels include a number of sports and a few movie channels. The decision has irked the viewers and invariably led to a debate on who decides what channels should go as personal preferences are as varied as the channels on offer.

Prior to introduction of TV in 1999, no nations were permitted to watch TV channels. Even after the introduction, debates continue on which of the available channels are to be allowed, with government arguments that increased TV channels in the country could quickly erode Bhutan’s cultural and social values with the greatest impact on the youth. Others concern that market for national TV would decline due to invasions by foreign channels.

A team entrusted for media impact study had earlier suggested government to block TV channels that are categorized as ‘too violent’ or ‘showing too much skin’. However, the ban became ineffective and last year, government permitted some of the blocked channels to air. But, in a few years, more violent programmes popped up, making a mockery of the earlier ban.

The repeated blockade on their favorite TV channels has compelled people to switch to direct to home (DTH) TV, which is superior to cable in terms of viewing clarity and offers up to 200 channels, for the same monthly price. The national broadcaster, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, also plans to go into DTH in near future. So far, government has entertained any company to operate DTH.

Though the government has so far not taken steps to block vulgar and pornographic contents in internet, where thousands of young and old people enter, TV channels have been the target of government actions for years.

Some object the decisions saying the context has changed with country adopting democracy and liberal politics. Content regulation has once again become the topic of discussion.