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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK

World: South Asia

Bhutan to enter TV age

Bhutan: No satellite dishes yet

By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan - which until now has banned television - has finally decided to have its own national TV channel.

The chief of Bhutan's broadcasting service, Sonam Tshong, told the BBC that the country's first TV channel would go on air on 2 June this year.

But the Bhutanese will still be denied access to global channels, because ownership of satellite dishes will continue to remain illegal in the kingdom.

Sonam Tshong said the national television channel would begin as a pilot project covering the capital, Thimphu.

But in due course it would branch out to other parts of the country once such expansion was found viable in techno-economic surveys.

He said the national television would broadcast in English and Bhutan's national language, Dzongkha.

The country's government-owned radio broadcasts in these two languages, as well as Nepali.

It is considered significant, however, that television will not broadcast in Nepali - the language of tens of thousands of migrants from Nepal, who have settled in Bhutan in this century.

Mr Tshong said the television project will cost the government several billion dollars, but did give an exact figure.

Global tie-ups

He said the broadcasters would consider tying up with some global channels as well, to rebroadcast specific programmes to Bhutan, but he did not elaborate on what these programmes would be.

He said the national television would primarily serve as an artistic platform for the Bhutanese people.

The opening of the national television channel will coincide with the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk.

The King has had reservations about exposing his countrymen to global television abruptly, though he allowed them watch the World Cup soccer in France last year by allowing some sports associations in Bhutan to set up their own dishes.

Some educational institutions are also given dishes to receive programmes considered important for students. Sources close to the King say Wangchuk wants his countrymen to view a national channel for some time before they are finally exposed to global television.

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