Saturday, October 2, 2010

False Claims By The BBC Filming Team: Part II

The blatant falsehood currently being broadcast by the BBC to their world audience claiming that their filming crew made a first time discovery of the Royal Bengal Tigers inhabiting the Bhutanese high mountains has caused much consternation among the Bhutanese and, perhaps, without our knowing, even among the conservationists and tiger experts around the world. I will revisit the issue in Part III of my post on the subject of BBC’s distortion of established facts and their callous disregard for the immense work done by others before them.
While still smarting over the BBC’s atrocious claims, something intrigued me. How on earth did the BBC manage to broadcast such a documentary film that the Bhutanese authorities would have known to be totally false? After all, all documentaries, films and news clippings acquired within the soil of Bhutan need to be first approved by the Bhutanese authorities before they are allowed to be broadcast to the general public. This is explicitly covered under the BICMA Act.
Is it possible that the BBC may have, in addition to falsifying facts, broken our rules pertaining to filming, entry into restricted areas, conducting scientific research etc.? Conversely, is it a case of our government officials in various departments not performing their duties with due diligence? Could the spread of the falsehood by the BBC filming crew have been prevented - had our officials done their job well?
Let us examine the processes involved.
When the BBC applies to enter the country for filming purpose, they need to apply through a local tour company. The local tour operator in turn applies for all the permits for the BBC crew before their arrival in the country. The tour operator also arranges logistics on behalf of the BBC crew. The visitation right is granted once the VISA is approved and issued by the Immigration Department.
The BBC crew, through their local tour operator or agent, has to deal with the following government agencies before they can undertake any planned activity in the country:
1. Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB)
2. Department of Immigration
4. Nature Conservation Division
5. RBA
6. Park Officials
7. Ministry of Agriculture
8. Department of Revenue & Customs
1. Tourism Council of Bhutan: Unless the BBC crew hopes to enter Bhutan as government guests, their Visa Application needs to be routed through the TCB. All guests of the government and those of individuals can apply directly to the Department of Immigration. 
2. Department of Immigration: For Entry Visa clearance
3. BICMA: All filming within the country - whether documentary or commercial - is guided by the Bhutan Filming Regulation 2007 under the Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Act. The rules are enforced by a regulatory authority known as BICMA. Even if the BBC has obtained a waiver of the filming royalty, they still need to obtain a Permit from BICMA and cannot bypass the rules and regulations that govern filming within the country.
Two of the important provisions under the said rules are:
1. Security Deposit of Nu.100,000.00 (even if the Royalty of Nu.150,000.00 is waived off). The rule concerning this payment states as follows: 

8.2 Security Deposit
The security deposit shall be applicable to all types of filming activities carried out in Bhutan irrespective of whether any filming royalty fee has been waived off or not. The security deposit paid shall be forfeited if the requirements of Clause 8.4 of this Regulation are not met. However, the Authority shall not be liable for the payment of any direct or indirect interests on the security amount deposited with it as per this provision. 

2. Preview of Film: Upon completion of filming, the rule requires that the work be reviewed by BICMA and other competent authorities and states as follows: 

8.3. Preview of production 

i. Documentaries and Films: The Authority shall preview the documentaries and films made. The filmmakers shall be required to make changes, if any, to the part or parts of the film, as required by the Examiners. One copy each of the final edited version of the film shall be submitted to the Authority for its records. The security deposit shall be refunded on receipt of the final films. 

ii. Project-related films: Any project-related films or documentaries made with a government partner shall be previewed by the individual ministry or government organization concerned, wherein a member of the Authority shall be present. The government partners for these films shall be responsible for submitting a copy of the final film to the Authority for record. 

Has the BICMA obtained the Security Deposit as per rule? Has the BBC been required to submit their work for preview by the authorities? Have they or the collaborating government partner previewed it? If not, has the Security Deposit been forfeited? 

4. Nature Conservation Division (NCD): The entire Park systems within the country come under the NCD. Before access to the parks are permitted, a host of permits and clearances are to be obtained from the NCD under various provisions in a variety of rules and Acts such as: Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan, 1995; Forest & Nature Conservation Rules of Bhutan, 2006, Rules on Biological Corridors, Biodiversity Act 2003 etc. Special permits, in addition to those issued by BICMA and any other government agency, are to be obtained from the NCD - for any restricted activities to be performed within the Park area. Has the NCD required the BBC crew to obtain the necessary permits to enter and conduct filming in: 

     a. National Parks
     b. Biological Corridors 

5. RBA: Has the BBC crew entered other restricted areas - other than the Parks and Biological corridors? If so, have they obtained permits from the RBA which is required as per rule? 

6. Park Officials: The Park officials in different Parks around the country are supposed to check and monitor the movement of people within the Park area. Has that been done? Did they see that the BBC crew had the necessary permits issued by the relevant authorities in Thimphu - to enter and conduct restricted activities within the Park area? I am also informed that certain Forestry officials and others accompanied the BBC crew. Was that because the work was of a collaborative nature between an agency of the RGoB and the BBC? 

7. Ministry of Agriculture: The filming and study of the tigers ought to fall under “scientific study” category which requires very special authorization from the highest authorities. Given the importance of the study, has the Ministry entered into an agreement with the BBC for “sharing of the research results and relevant information” emerging out of the filming being authorized? 

8. Department of Revenue & Customs: As per Customs rules, a Re-Export Certificate has to be obtained for all the filming and technical and professional equipment that the BBC brings in. Has such a list been submitted to the Customs authorities at the Paro airport and verified by them upon repatriation of the equipment at the end of the filming in Bhutan? 

There seems to be a need to review to what extent all the above named organizations have been involved and taken into confidence - before, during and post filming. The fact that the BBC footages contains atrociously inaccurate and false claims can only mean that the BBC never submitted the films for preview. Who authorized the waiver of the requirement for preview, if there was one?


  1. Thank you for your diligence in following this up. I've been shocked at BBC's claims once I learned about the older studies conducted in Bhutan and was hoping somebody would take the BBC to task over this matter.

    I await part III, and for truth & fairness to prevail...

  2. Hi Anuj

    Thanks for the visit. I am not the only one who has been following up on the BBC's atrocious claims. Kuensel has done it:

    and Dr. Karma Phuntsho from UK has posted some comments on the Cameraman's blog:

    his post appears at sl. 63 of a long list of comments.

    And, on the today's paper edition, Bhutan Times has brought out another story that effectively charges the BBC team of having violated Bhutanese rules on filming.

  3. Good work...I will quote and republish the article in bhutanjournals later, of course with your permission. In the meanwhile, I also wrote something about their claims at

  4. Hi admin-bhutanjournals

    Go ahead and post it on your site.

    Yes I went and read your post. Actually I had confused your site with that of bhutanblogs :) I have now booked marked your site.

    Please post whatever you want to post from my site. Just let me know.

  5. thank you aue yeshey...

    i understand your confusion as i maintain bhutanblogs too :) and that it has the same theme with different colors.

    i will definitely let you know when i republish contents from your blog.

  6. Hi admin-bjournals,

    No wonder!

    Like I said, please go ahead and post any article from my blog onto yours - I would consider it an honor that you choose to republish them ... just let me know so that I am reminded to visit your blogs more often than I do because I am always doing something or the other which leaves me not much time to read.

  7. Hi again Yeshey

    Thanks for the links..

    The comments below the BBC blog are insightful & revealing, especially those form the forest/conservation field in Bhutan. I also noticed a comment from the producer, Keeling, (#97), but his half-apologies, no-retraction, defensive, and overall smoke & mirrors reply framed in a comment under a blog does not compensate for the lack of veracity & roughshod treatment of conservation efforts & history in Bhutan.

    They, i.e. the BBC & the producers of the show, should release a full explanation of the circumstances (and not excuses), retraction of their tall claims, & apologies to the conservationists and the people of Bhutan.

    In this day and age of instant access, instant verification & rapid information dissemination, it should be possible to make the BBC do the right thing.