Bhutan's Boob Tube

Shangri-la wrestles with TV.


The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which calls itself "the Eldorado of the East" and "the last Shangri-la," is reconsidering its five-year experiment with TV. Broadcasting authorities in the tiny country nestled between India and Tibet are concerned about a perceived increase in violent behavior, especially among male students. "The students are becoming more and more violent when they are at school," one official told the BBC. A bill to restrict program choices was before the legislature last summer.

TV came to Bhutan in 1999. Most Bhutanese still have no television, because 70 percent of the populace is without electricity. The remaining 30 percent see only three hours of TV programs each day, with much of that time devoted to news in Bhutan's four languages as well as service programming addressing "farming methods, health and hygiene, environment preservation, distance education, rural development, women and child care," according to a Bhutanese Web site.

The programming most often cited for inciting violence is, of all things, American professional wrestling matches. Older boys, some charge, are using wrestling holds to intimidate younger students. But local scholars who have been studying the impact of new media on this isolated Buddhist society suggest that the furor over pro wrestling is a moral panic, and that it has more to do with change than with violence. As media scholar Shockshan Peck told the BBC, "Young people are now much more in tune with globalization and what is happening around the world. The risk is that the more we learn about the world, the more we're losing of our own culture."