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Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 21:29 GMT 22:29 UK

World: South Asia

Bhutan TV follows cyber launch

Bhutan: One of the last outposts of the digital age

The remote Buddhist country of Bhutan launched onto the Internet - just hours before its first television station began broadcasting.

The launch of Bhutan's Internet service and the Bhutan Broadcasting Service are part of celebrations to mark King Jigme Singye Wangchuk's silver jubilee.

Television was officially banned because it was not felt to be a priority and could be a corrupting influence.

The king said that the introduction of television and the Internet was a reflection of the level of progress that Bhutan had achieved in recent years.

But he also warned that both mediums could be both positive and negative for the individual and society.

A BBC correspondent in Bhutan says there are those in government who hope the new developments will not be at the cost of the country's successful efforts to preserve its very unique culture and tradition.

'Time to be connected'

Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk launched the Internet and e-mail service with a mouse-click, following an elaborate Buddhist ceremony in the capital Thimphu.

The queen - who is the eldest of four sisters married to the king - said the time had come for Bhutan to be connected to the outside world.

But it would continue to temper modernisation with its traditional values.

Officials said the service, DrukNet, would reach all 20 districts, many of which do not have paved roads.

Last month Bhutan installed a $48m state-of-the art digital telephone network to rival those of Singapore and Hong Kong.

The advent of DrukNet has earned King Jigme the nickname "His Majesty, Light of the Cyber Age".

TV news

Bhutan Broadcasting Service's first evening on air included news in Dzongkha, the national language, and English, followed by a recording of the morning jubilee celebrations.

After its first three days, which will concentrate on the jubilee, BBS will broadcast a diet of news, documentaries and films, and some international news and programmes.

A BBS spokesman said: "Faced with the challenge of converting a radio team to broadcast in both media, we will have to gain experience first and then attempt to grow."

Despite the official ban on television, most of the population already owns a TV set either to watch videos or foreign satellite channels.

Isolation policy

For years, Bhutan had a deliberate policy of isolation, fearing outside influences would undermine its absolute monarchy, freedom and culture.

Three similar Buddhist kingdoms - Tibet, Sikkim and Ladakh - have disappeared as independent states.

Bhutan, squeezed between India and China, has just 600,000 people, most of them subsistence farmers.

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