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AsiaNews (02/23/06) – Bhutanese authorities are describing the launching of nationwide satellite TV services as a landmark in the history of electronic media in the tiny Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom . Minority groups see it however as a tool to entrench Buddhist cultural hegemony over the country and keep other groups and communities on a leash.

Bhutan ’s Information and Communications Minister, Lyonpo Leki Dorji, said February 20, launching day, that the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) had assumed the role of a true national broadcaster and that news and programmes were now available in every Bhutanese home. This step for Bhutan was in part made possible with the aid of the International Telecommunication Union.

Dorji added that between now and 2008 a new constitution will be adopted that ushers in parliamentary democracy, and the BBS will play a pivotal role in educating the public. “This means the BBS will have to improve the quality of its news coverage and its programming. This is an imperative now.”

Kamala Chetri, a Nepalese of Bhutanese origin, told AsiaNews that the ten hours in which the BBC is on the air “are literally packed with news about the royal family and Buddhist monasteries. The entire service smacks of Buddhist preaching. We don’t get anything about Hindus, Muslims or other religions and cultures”.

With TV programming that is largely Buddhist in content, “the gap between the Buddhist majority and immigrant Hindus, Christians and Nepalese animists is bound to grow. It doesn’t really foster co-existence”.

Chetri, a nurse, adds that relations between Buddhist Bhutanese and ethnic Nepalese have been deteriorating in the past two decades.

“Since 1990 some 100,000 ethnic Nepalese Bhutanese have been living as refugees in camps in Nepal after being forcibly expelled from the country on the ground that they were conspiring to eliminate Buddhist culture and religion,” she said.

A Christian clergyman working among ethnic Nepalese in southern Bhutan told Asianews that in Bhutan Christianity and Islam are banned.

“We have hundreds of Christian believers in the country, but we can’t preach openly,” he said.

Although Hinduism is in some way officially recognised Buddhist monks try their best to curb Hindu rituals and worship.

“There is a total blackout on religions and cultures other than Buddhism. It is part of a strategy to keep other religions on a leash,” said the clergyman who chose to remain anonymous.