The High Court’s bench II completely overturned Thimphu dzongkhag court’s judgment on a case Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) filed against Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation (BBS).
The verdict rendered last week ruled that BBS had not violated section 111 (1) of the Bhutan Information and Communication Act 2006 and is, thereby, not liable for reporting of false information as per section 30 (2) of the Act.
The court, instead, ruled that BBS and journalists have the responsibility and freedom to disseminate information as per section 5 and 3 of Article 7 of the Constitution.
Section 3 of Article 7 states, “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to information,” and section 5 states, “There shall be freedom of the press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information, including electronic.”
The verdict also stated that BICMA officials did not provide information to BBS reporter for two days, reasoning their officials are on leave.
BICMA took BBS to court after BBS refused to pay fines and penalties it imposed for airing a story on the movie “Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait” on December 21, 2016.
BICMA contended that BBS, while covering the news just presented a one-sided view and did not consult with them. It also alleged BBS of broadcasting clippings of the film, which they did not certify, disseminating incorrect information and misinformed and misled the public.
BICMA imposed BBS a fine of Nu 224,625 for failing to abide by its directives and for misinforming and instigating the public by providing incorrect information and a one-sided story.
BBS refused to pay the fines, stating it shall seek the intervention of an independent authority for arbitration if the issue is not resolved. BBS refuted all the charges.
A majority chunk of the fine imposed on BBS is for violating section 111 (1) of the BICMA Act, 2006, which states: “No film intended for public exhibition shall be advertised to the general public through any medium before the grant of a certificate by the Authority.”
The dzongkhag court’s civil bench passed the judgment of the case on January 28 this year, ruling in favour of BICMA and imposed a fine of Nu 45,000 on BBS for breaching the ‘Journalists Code of Conduct’ by declaring that BICMA barred the film from being screened in the country without talking to BICMA officials. “Just because the reporter did not meet the officials, BBS should not have made the conclusion that the film was barred,” the dzongkhag court’s judgment stated.
BICMA banned the film from screening within the country reasoning the characters in the film used religious masks.