Frontline World

Bhutan - The Last Place


Synopsis of "The Last Place"

Letter from Co-Producer Alexis Bloom

The Impact of Television

Most Watched Cable Channels

Article by Orville Schell

Interview with Rinzy Dorji, Co-owner Sigma Cable

Letter to the Editor

Facts and Stats about Bhutan

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Media, New Technology, Human Rights and History




One year after Bhutan emerged from centuries of self-imposed isolation and welcomed television into its homes, one parent weighed the benefits of a heightened awareness of international events against his son's new penchant for imitating television villains. This letter ran in Bhutan's only newspaper, Kuensel, on September 23, 2000.

Sir - When cable TV was introduced last year and the service made available to customers, I hesitated a lot before subscribing, for various reasons. I could already imagine my child and nieces spending chunks of their time watching TV. But, on second thought, it might do them some good, creating certain awareness in them about various events in the world; then, too, I could keep myself abreast of world events, so I decided to get myself connected.

Exactly one year later, I am scratching my head over that decision. Yes, I have benefited a lot. I have been able to keep myself up on international events: the clash between the black and white farmers in Zimbabwe, the presidential campaigns in the USA, the WTO Seattle summit, the tragedy of the Russian submarine, the reunion of families from North and South Korea, and a host of other issues. I do not yet see how these things have impacted me intellectually, but I can certainly discuss these issues, at least superficially, with my friends and colleagues.

My awareness of happenings around the world has increased. I am happy, or perhaps not... As much as I have been able to keep track of these issues, the rest of my family's members have been doing so too. But, perhaps, the tracks we have been keeping track of, have been totally different. They watch TV more than I do. My son has several stories to narrate when I get home from the office. "Appa, goonda (villain) was beaten up by keta (hero) and then the policemen appeared and took all of them to jail...." In a minute's time, he runs into the kitchen and comes running back with a spoon in his hand. He holds the spoon, which he pretends is a microphone, in one hand, and solicits my attention. With his eyes closed and his chest pushed forward, he starts reproducing some part of the sentences from the World Wrestling Federation fights. He tells me that he is "Rock," whoever that is, and jumps on me. With one of his hands across my neck, he bangs his other hand on the bed, counting "one, two, three." After three, he frees me and jumps up, saying that he has won the fight. He has different stories to tell every day. He has different actions to demonstrate almost everyday, sometimes it is counting one, two, three, sometimes he warns me to put my "Hands Up" and comes towards me pointing the gas lighter towards at me, imitating a movie star or villain shooting a gun. His way of playing is no longer making things with sticks or stones and making cloth toys but imitating what he sees on the TV screen.

He sings a dozen Hindi songs both from the movies and the advertisements. Kahonapyar hey, Jo chaho hojaye, Coca-Cola Enjoy! and he can go on and on...... He can reproduce several Hindi dialogues. He proudly imitates Amitabh Bachan from Kon Banega Crorepati and yells Mai Amitabh Bachan Bolrahung, Koan Banega Crorepati se and so on. So much for incidents related to my son.

I have another group of people on whom the TV seems to have had a different impact. And all of them are girls attending high school. Their area of interest has been the Bollywood movies and some Hindi serials. They switch from channel to channel to keep up with different programmes on each of these channels. They watch each of these programmes with great enthusiasm. They also watch MTV and other music channels like MCM and B4U Music. Whenever they are free, they are most certainly discussing Sharukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit and a host of other Bollywood stars. Intrigued by their frequent discussions, I interrupt and ask them how old Madhuri Dixit is and one of them proudly answers, "she is thirty-four". Next, I ask them who the Foreign Minister of Bhutan is and their faces go blank. Finally, they surrender and confess that they do not know. Annoyed by their ignorance, I ask them which session of National Assembly is being held this year and, once again, their faces go blank; one of them whispers, very cowardly: "the 66th session?".

As I ask them this question, there is some advertisement about Pantene Shampoo. And once again their attention shifts from me to the TV screen. Subsequently, they begin to discuss a whole range of ads about detergents, cosmetics and other consumer items. I cannot but feel helpless. But things don't end here. Their requests for money to buy shampoo, perfume and several other things have been increasing. They have also been asking me if I would ever buy a washing machine, a microwave oven and a host of other luxury items whose names I cannot even pronounce.

My narration of above incidents shows how I have failed in carrying out my parental responsibilities. Yes, I agree, but I assume that there are several other parents who have failed, too. That is no consolation, however. The issue here is not that, of comparing myself with other parents. The issue is the impact the TV has and will have on our younger generation. As TV begins to have more influence on our children, our efforts as parents, to instill in them Bhutanese values, attitudes and aspirations will be increasingly challenged. Our children are changing much faster than the world around them. This is the issue I face every day when I return home from my office. We cannot turn the clock back and forbid television. But we can determine both how to control what are children watch and, equally important, we can demand more Bhutanese programming of a quality that will attract the attention of our children, who are Bhutan's future.