Bhutan’s Burgeoning Fourth Estate

Pop!Tech Fellow Tshewang Dendup introduces Project 2020, his goal of educating Bhutan's youth to share their stories of growing up in a new democracy, through the use of new media. Photograph by kris krüg

Bhutan’s isolation from the rest of the world and its focus on “Gross National Happiness” rather than Gross National Product have always appealed to Westerners burned out on hyper-connectivity and accelerated technological change. Until the eve of the new millenium Bhutan was arguably the most isolated nation in the world. Then came 1998 when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced significant political reforms, transferring most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowing for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. The following year the government lifted its ban on television and the Internet. In his speech marking the ruling, the King said that television was a critical step to the modernisation of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country’s Gross National Happiness, but warned that the “misuse” of television could erode traditional Bhutanese values.

On June 2, 1999 the Bhutan Broadcasting Service launched its first night of television broadcasts to celebrate Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s 25 years of rule. Today the Bhutan Broadcasting Service remains the only television channel transmitted within Bhutan’s borders, with nightly broadcasts from 6 p.m. to 11 a.m. Most of the programming is aired in Dzongkha, but two current events and news programs are aired each night in English.

The website of the Bhutan Broadcasting Service is entirely in English and offers daily article updates, streaming online radio, and even a section of free Bhutanese Traditional Songs available for download.

If Bhutan is going to move forward with promised democratic reforms, then a vibrant press and informed citizenry will be crucial. Tshewang Dendup of the Bhutan Broadcasting Service is making sure that the world’s youngest democracy is ready for the challenges ahead by empowering emerging Bhutanese leaders with computer, business, and media skills. He was a 2008 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow where he gave this presentation about his country and his vision:

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