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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Has TV changed Bhutan?
WWE wrestling
Children have been imitating moves from the WWE series
After five years of broadcasting, Bhutan's government is considering legislation to regulate what the country's people can watch. What effect has five years of TV had on the country?

It is unclear yet exactly what will be restricted by the Information, Communication and Technology Act.

But Rinzi Dorji, the head of the Sigma cable company, told BBC World Service's TV Invasion programme that the programmes most likely to be required to be taken off air would include pornography and the staged US wrestling series WWE.

He said that this was because of a wave of children performing copycat wrestling moves.

"The students are becoming more and more violent when they are at school," he explained.

"The elder boys are trying to imitate the wrestling styles on the younger ones, so that is creating a lot of problems in schools."

Wrestling and porn

In June 1999, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan allowed television broadcasting to begin for the first time.

The introduction of television into Bhutan was sparked by the World Cup Final of France '98. The 3-0 victory of the home side over Brazil was watched by thousands on a big screen in Bhutan's National Square.

France win the 1998 World Cup
TV began after thousands gathered to watch the final of France '98
It was such a success that a year later, on the 25th anniversary of his coronation, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk decided to begin the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS). Six months after that, global TV broadcasting was allowed in.

Shockshan Peck, who has studied the impact of TV in Bhutan, told TV Invasion that it was this second development that has caused profound change.

"Young people are now much more in tune with globalisation and what is happening around the world," she said.

"The risk is that the more we learn about the world the more we're losing of our own culture."

The Information, Communication and Technology Act is partially in response to this concern.

Bhutan's king, who rules in conjunction with the government, had long kept his kingdom free of foreign influence in order to preserve its deep-rooted Buddhist culture.

Kinley Dorji, the editor of Bhutan's only regular newspaper, the weekly Kuensel, explained that the thinking in the country is that as it will never be a military or economic power, its strength must be its unique society.

He believes that television represents a direct threat to this.

"We're trying to look at it in the context of Bhutanese society, Buddhist society, where the rural values, Buddhist values, social values, are very important.

"This is Bhutan, which came out of isolation only in the 1960s, and since then tried to follow a policy where it was trying to preserve, conserve, traditional values.

"So that's why we call it literally an aerial invasion into Bhutanese society - a society where the cultural identity was its strength."

Crime rise

He also said that among the first letters the newspaper received about television was from a 13-year-old boy worried about what he was seeing in what was then called WWF, before a legal dispute with the World Wildlife Fund.

I would say the most violent channels are CNN and the BBC
Dorji Ahm, youth development worker
"Bhutanese kids who have grown up in this quiet country, this very rustic society, suddenly saw these big men beating each other up on television," he added.

"They couldn't understand it. There were several pained letters from kids saying 'why are they doing this?' They couldn't understand what it was.

"Two or three ex-patriots replied to that, saying 'this is not real, it's choreographed - it's not that bad'."

The worries over the effect television may be having on Bhutan's youth in particular are not surprising - over half of the country's 800,000 population are under 15 years old.

However, Dorji Ahm, a youth development worker in Bhutan, said she was not at all concerned.

And she argued that there was "nothing violent" on Bhutan's TV.

Bhutan children
Some are worried about the effect of TV on Bhutan's youth
"I would say the most violent channels are CNN and the BBC," she added.

"There, you see a lot of violence, and you know this is not a movie - this is reality."

Certainly, a study by a British university into the effect of television on society in St Helena, which turned on the transmitters four years before Bhutan, found no correlation between TV violence and children's behaviour.

But others in Bhutan believe that children are imitating what they are seeing - at least indirectly.

In particular, they link television to a rise in crime over the period it has been broadcasting.

"[Young people] want and need what they see on television - the fashion, the clothes, the whole changing lifestyle, going to bars, drinking," Kinley Dorji said.

"A lot of these ideas have come from television. And they want more now."

He argued that many of the criminals came from low-income families, and that much of the crime involved the theft of tape recorders, TV sets and clothes.

"If you look at the items being stolen, it's directly related to what they're seeing," he added.

Irrelevant debate

TV analyst Shockshan Peck said that TV may have some influence on how people commit crime.

Bhutan's king Jigme Singye Wangchuk
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk believes Bhutan's people will judge what is good and bad TV
But she argued that it was equally a key part of Buddhist culture that people decide for themselves what is right and wrong

"But the intention - this is a very Buddhist thing - the intention is not driven by television."

She quoted the king of Bhutan, who had said on the launch of television that he was confident people would pick the best from media.

"Both good and bad are there - it's up to you to decide what is good and what is bad," she stressed.

"There's inherently a great confidence in people understanding what is good."

Others, though, see the whole debate as largely irrelevant.

They point out that the vast majority of Bhutan's population - 70% - do not even have electricity, let alone television.

Country profile: Bhutan
04 Mar 04  |  Country profiles
Bhutan gets its first internet cafe
25 Mar 00  |  South Asia
Bhutan TV follows cyber launch
04 Jun 99  |  South Asia

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