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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 March, 2005, 08:38 GMT
TV conquers remote Bhutan

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Thimphu

The Wangmo family is glued to TV in Bhutan
The Wangmo family is glued to television
When television arrived in Bhutan in June 1999, the remote Himalayan kingdom was immediately hooked on its charms.

This was not surprising considering that Bhutan offers very little in terms of entertainment.

Residents of the capital, Thimphu, now say they are glued to the telly for several hours a day.

Long-running and popular Indian soap operas beamed from across the border are hot favourites.

Thimphu residents animatedly discuss the serials and follow the fortunes of their characters.


One of the viewers is Choki Wangmo.

She and her three children cannot take their eyes off a Hindi soap on the television set in their tiny living room.

Her 13-year-old daughter, Ugyen Choki, says she never misses the serial Kasauti Zindagi Ki (The Measure of Life), broadcast four days a week.

Kinley Dorji
With changing times the threats have also changed. Now we have TV and other forces that are splitting society
Kinley Dorji,
newspaper editor

"It is so interesting. I watch it regularly," she says.

When the lead characters in the soap have a tiff, Ugyen says she feels very sad.

Her brother, Ugyen Dorji is also addicted to television.

"My sleep is reduced because of TV. I know it affects my studies," he says.

"I cannot concentrate and even in the classroom I keep thinking about what will happen in the story tomorrow."

While Choki Wangmo prefers Bhutanese programmes, her children watch a lot of English and Hindi shows.

Cartoons and football matches are also a big hit with the children.

Television dominates family discussions these days, says Choki Wangmo.

"The children go out and play less. Even conversation at home veers around television," she says.


Bhutan has no film industry to speak of and the state-run Bhutan Broadcasting Service only provides TV programming for four hours a day.

Bhutanese in Thimphu
There is concern about how TV is affecting Bhutanese society

But cable provides more than 40 channels - many feature the hugely popular and colourful Indian soaps.

Kinley Dorji, editor of Kuensel, Bhutan's only newspaper, says television is "splitting" Bhutanese society.

"Bhutan's story has always been one of survival. In the past the threat has been political.

"With changing times the threats have also changed. Now we have TV and other forces that are splitting society," he says.

Mr Dorji says young viewers are particularly vulnerable.

"The most popular programmes are the wrestling entertainment. When TV first came in, students wrote to us saying they were shocked. They could not imagine why these big men were throwing each other around and fighting."

Mr Dorji says his paper received letters from children and carried reports saying how these wrestling sequences were simulated.

"But very quickly the kids started doing it themselves.

"We received a report that in one school in central Bhutan a student broke his arm because his friend threw him on the ground, emulating these wrestlers."


But many say the television is not the bane of Bhutanese society.

Dorji Ohm, who works with a Thimphu-based NGO, Youth Development Fund, says TV is being made a scapegoat for Bhutan's problems.

Dorji Ohm
Dorji Ohm says television is not harming Bhutanese society

"In fact, most TV programmes are safe," she says.

Most agree that people are watching too much television.

The government is working on a law to set and monitor programme standards.

But Communication and Information Minister Leki Dorji says there is only so much the government can do.

"You cannot stop anything coming from abroad. Internet's spreading fast. There's radio and TV available on the net," he says.

"So it's the responsibility of the parents to advise their children what to watch, when to watch and how much to watch."

Back at the Wangmo household, all eyes are still on the TV.

Choki Wangmo admits family life can come second to television.

"We eat dinner while watching TV and if we talk during a show, the children scold us. They say they can't follow the dialogue."

Has TV changed Bhutan?
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25 Mar 00 |  South Asia
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04 Jun 99 |  South Asia
Bhutan to enter TV age
27 Apr 99 |  South Asia
Country profile: Bhutan
04 Jan 05 |  Country profiles

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