Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy

For the duration of our study abroad experience in Bhutan we are very fortunate to have been placed at the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) as interns for the practicum component of our course load. The mission of BCMD is to nurture a culture of democracy by strengthening media, expanding public discourse, and providing essential training and education for key persons who will have a direct impact on Bhutan’s democratic transition and the creation of democratic institutions. Those who do work at BCMD accomplish and live this mission through the following objectives: creating a responsible citizenry that will actively engage in the practices of democracy, strengthening the professionalism of the media and help educate both media professionals and their audiences as to the role of the media in building a democratic society, creating public spaces for civic discourse, creating multimedia resources for/on media and democracy and promoting their distribution, and strengthening the institutions of civil society, most of which are newly created.
BCMD has developed media clubs at many secondary and post secondary schools and worked on expanding media literacy through trainings and workshops. They put out annual reports, brochures, books, monthly newsletters, and other publications. They put on forums, documentary film screenings, and conduct surveys and studies.
During our first week interning at BCMD, The Media Lab was opened. One of the organization’s core aims is to engage young people in using digital media as a way to actively participate in the world around them. Bhutanese youth have an abundance of creative and compassionate energy, and the goal of the Media Lab is to harness that so that they can realize their potentials as active and responsible citizens in Bhutan’s democracy. Essential to enabling young people to do this is giving them consistent access to technology. After conducting a series of needs assessments and focus groups, BCMD found that the majority of youth in Thimphu lack access to basic technology—primarily still cameras, video cameras, computers, creative software (Photoshop, Moviemaker, etc.), and printers. Without these tools, young people cannot follow up and sustain their creative interests. The Media Lab does this by giving them access to this technology and conducting a series of workshops, group discussions, and open mic nights (including poetry slams).
BCMD is an NGO and gets funding from a variety of places. These include The Canada Fund, Civil Society Organization Authority (CSOA), Danish Institurte for Parties and Democracy, International Centre for Journalists, Liaison Office of Denmark, Open Society Institute, and the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).
BCMD was founded in 2008 by Siok Sian Pek-Dorji. As a print and broadcast journalist, and then as an independent writer and consultant, Siok Sian Pek-Dorji has worked closely with NGOs, government, the UN system, development agencies, and corporate and private organizations. She has been involved in projects in the media and projects related to culture, women and children, youth and other social issues. In a career spanning 20 years, she has produced documentary films, and news/feature articles, conducted media trainings, carried out social and media research, prepared country reports, project reviews, and educational campaigns. BCMD has a board of advisors including professors from Stony Brook University, Stanford University, other Media NGOs from Thailand and Singapore.
We think that the most rewarding part of working at the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy is knowing that the work we do will directly affect the projects that are going on in ways that will last. Because the centre is relatively new the things that we are working on are sometimes a first attempt to solving a problem or coming up with a new idea. For example, BCMD doesn’t have a set program for a community mapping project and we are doing the research to come up with one under the supervision of our advisor. We are working on surveys and computer settings that will be used very soon. It is gratifying to know that we are being of significant help where our skills are being put at use. The kind of work we do at BCMD is of a very academic nature, where what we know is valued and used, but at the same time we need to do research to be able to fully do our jobs the best way possible.
Another rewarding factor of working at the Media Lab in BCMD is the interactions with the youth. The media lab is open on the weekends with activities and access to the technology. Being able to hear what the young Bhutanese students have to say about current events in general and the media has been fascinating. The environment in which everybody interacts is a learning experience for anybody in the room.
The responsibilities are big in this placement, as is the feeling of accomplishment. If a student wants to have an internship at BCMD they must know that this is a place where they expect you to be a fast learner who is willing to do some research to fulfill certain tasks. Because it is a new organization they also need people with willingness to think and speak up, sharing creative ideas, and ways to go about executing them.
Ben Gagnon and Ana Brenes-Coto

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