Bhutanomics blocked, a start to media filtration?
Bhutanomics.com, a satirical website has been blocked by Druknet, one of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country. This was confirmed by a Druknet employee though he and his colleagues did not share who gave the instructions to do so.
Nobody is really sure whether the website is operated within the country or the webmaster resides outside Bhutan.
‘Bhutanomics,’ the website defines itself as serving the citizen to understand Bhutan’s challenges. It also solicits the reader to express one’s opinions to help Bhutan make intelligent decisions for a meaningful future.
The website since its inception had become hugely popular and was seen as an anonymous online forum to criticize the government.
Blogs on the website were always a satirical take on developments or mistakes of the government. It also posted some direct editorial content randomly from local newspapers that it fancied. Not only does it limit its posts to text but even edits and modifies pictures to match their ‘news’.
The site, however, was also criticized for slandering personal reputations withouth editorial oversight.
Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) officials said the authority hasn’t instructed any of the internet service providers (ISPs) to block the website.
Asked if BICMA would review websites that contains materials deemed unsuitable for the Bhutanese audience, the officials said “while the Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Act 2006 (Act) mandates the Authority to take steps to regulate or curtail the harmful and illegal contents on the Internet and other ICT/media services, this mandate can be exercised upon a directive issued to the Authority by the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC). As of now, no such directive was received.”
The two popular sites that has been posting articles on a regular basis are Bhutanomics.com and Jigsnews.tumblr.com.
Cabinet Secretary Dasho Penden Wangchuk said he isn’t aware of any such websites nor has any idea about the cabinet banning the site.The MoIC’s department of information and media (DoIM) director Kinley T. Wangchuk said although aware of such websites, the department hasn’t received any directives on taking any action about it. “We haven’t blocked nor banned any websites,” he said.
However, one of the users posted a comment on the website’s Facebook page with instructions on how to open the site despite being blocked by the ISP. “Let them block, we will always find a way to open it because this is the age of ICT,” he posted.
An ardent social media user, Kunga Tenzin Dorji said “Bhutanomics makes no claim to factual authenticity. It is satirical. Blocking it is equivalent to banning cartoons or caricatures from appearing in newspapers.”
He said “it is unconstitutional as well, because the constitution provides us the right to information. Bhutanomics does not poke fun at the Monarchy nor does it threaten national security.”
He said there was no reason for such an extreme measure. “Blocking of bhutanomics.com is downright wrong. Druknet can be and ought to be sued in a court of law for violating our right to information. If Druknet was ordered by higher ups, those higher ups should be sued,” he said.
A journalist who is also the Editor of Bhutan Times, Namkhai Norbu said “I don’t know the rationale behind blocking of the site. They must have reasons but it would be wrong on the part of the ISP if they were told to do so externally and if they had completed all process to have the website hosted in the first place. However, we should know how to draw lines between freedom of expression and right to privacy. We have the freedom of expression, but we should keep in mind that every person has the right to privacy too.”
The website though is still available in other private ISPs like Tashi Cell.
The general public opinion is that the government has banned the website from Druknet which is the biggest internet service provider in Bhutan and is owned by the government.
Earlier a similar website bhutantimes.com also suffered a brief ban by the government before making a comeback and then fizzling out again.
According to the Opposition leader bhutantimes.com played an important role in influencing voters in 2008. (Additional reporting by Tanden Zangmo)