The Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has started taking non-compliance to regulations seriously.
Last December, the authority cancelled the licence of the weekly Dzongkha paper, Druk Yoezer for not meeting circulation requirements. It also suspended the issuance of new licences for places of entertainment and despite the flak it received, it has standardised the number of TV channels in the country.
Given the way it functioned, many understood BICMA more as a licensing authority than a regulatory body. Its decision to monitor non-compliance shows that it takes its regulatory mandate seriously.
It observed that since 2011, the number of copies newspapers printed in the country has dropped between 56 to 93 percent. The baseline for this was the number of copies the media house had agreed to print when it applied for a licence. Of the eight papers, only three print more than 40 percent of their initial target.
The rest printed between seven to 13 percent.
These findings are important for it gives the society a picture of how the print media has evolved over the years. It points out the challenges of sustainability and its impact on the media’s mandate to inform. One of the first visible signs of the country’s transition to a democracy was the liberalisation of media. Since then, Bhutan saw about a dozen newspapers, most of which, however, remain confined to the capital.
To ensure that people across the country have access to quality ICT and media services, BICMA in consultation with media houses decided to standardise the number of newspaper copies they print and circulate. The revised standards would come into effect from April 1.
BICMA has cautioned media houses that there will be zero tolerance to non-compliance and asserted that circulation audit would henceforth be mandatory. As progressive as these decisions appear, it is the implementation part needs to be watched for. To what extent the annual performance agreements measure this is yet to be seen, but weak implementation of rules and regulations has become institutionalised in the public sector. Can BICMA be an exception?
The authority isn’t looking at the online reach of the media houses through their social media pages but it has to be wary of online communication and the regulatory challenges this could pose. But in implementing the revised rules, the authority should be mindful in not thwarting freedom of expression and discourse. Its regulations should not be used to police the media.