Wednesday, October 6, 2010

False Claims By The BBC Filming Team: Part III

In celebration of the BBC’s filming and release of the footage of the Royal Bengal tigers living in the alpine jungles of Bhutan which the BBC and the filming team have gone on to claim as the first ever evidence of the tiger’s existence at such high altitude, Gordon Buchanan the cameraman makes the following revealing statement: 

“Back at the start of the noughties I was making Tigers Of The Emerald Forest, a film about an isolated tiger population of about 30 individuals (a healthy breeding population) living in a little known national park in north central India. 

The film was about the success story of those tigers and how, despite the pressures they faced, they were doing really well. 

Within two years of my departure, all of them, every last one had been wiped out by illegal poaching. The news of that tragedy threw into sharp focus the realisation that the very worst was true - that we faced a future where tigers could no longer survive in the wild”. 

Here is the link: 

So, by his own admission, is it possible that he and the BBC may have knowingly endangered our tigers that our government and a lot of people connected with the tiger conservation project have worked so hard to protect and preserve for the past close to two decades? Ofcourse not, because, in the words of Jonny Keeling, series producer of “Lost Land of the Tiger” on the same blog mentioned above; Knowledge that tigers live in Bhutan can be found widely across the internet”. Now, isn’t that rather contradictory for someone who claimed that they had the first hard evidence of the tiger’s existence in Bhutan? 

Will our tigers face the same fate as those of the Emerald Forests of north central India? Perhaps we should invite Gordon Buchanan to give us a reading on the matter, given his past experience. 

One of the BBC sites also mentions; “Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan searched for tigers in the high Himalayas following rumours from local people that tigers live in the mountains”. What BBC means is that what we know and can prove with photographic evidence is nothing more than rumours and what they show is the real hard evidence. 

In another one of their sites, the BBC also proposes to suggest the establishment of a wildlife corridor for wildlife to move from place to place. Gordon Buchanan writes, in the same blog mentioned above; “If we care enough and can create a corridor spanning the Himalayas from Nepal to Thailand, tigers still have a chance”. This shows clear lack of knowledge and expertise on the part of the BBC filming team. These statements can only mean that they were unaware of the existence of our Biological Corridor that was established in the late 1990’s - specifically, in the words of Karma Jigme of the NCD; “that it was because of tigers that the concept of biological corridors came about and was established in 1998”. 

The BBC claims that they worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry officials and staff. If that is the case, how is it possible that the BBC team was not aware of the existence of photographic and other evidences that establishes, beyond doubt, the tiger’s existence in Bhutan? The Department of Forestry is the custodian of all the evidences gathered over the years on all the work done and data collected on the tiger’s habitat, its protection and conservation. Did the Forestry officials conceal the truth from the BBC team or, did the BBC deliberately withhold established facts and evidences so that they can claim full credit for the “discovery” of the tigers? 

Tim Martin, BBC’s Executive Producer responded to the email of Sonam Wangdi of NCD, Department of Forestry who sought clarifications on the matter - but the Producer had nothing convincing to offer by way of reason - other than some vague and lame excuses. 

Jonny Keeling says that what the BBC claimed was that they have proof of tigers breeding at such high altitudes - based on the footage of a lactating female tiger. That is rather strange. If tigers have been known to be living in Bhutan for the past many centuries, isn’t it reasonable to assume that they would have been breeding? Otherwise wouldn’t they have been long extinct? 

Even when criticism of their falsehood is mounting, Keeling is adamant and states; “We made clear in the press release and in the series that people in Bhutan had seen tracks of tigers at high altitude”. Can you believe the audacity of the man? He still does not admit that he is aware of the existence of evidence of the tiger’s existence in Bhutan’s high altitude mountains. Even worst, he credits our biologists and conservationists with having seen only tracks of the tiger. 

To be continued …………..

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?