A Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB) study on the situational assessment of Journalists in Bhutan showed that the current media situation in the country is ‘very bad.’
The survey covered 90 journalists working in 16 media organizations and 29 former journalists. The primary objective of the study was to identify constraints and challenges facing journalists in discharging their responsibilities and assess prevailing media policies and freedom to practice journalism like access to information and challenges.
The majority (71%) of working journalists felt that journalism has become unattractive and lost its attractions. The low salary packages, professional hazards, and the lack of public recognition of the profession were cited as the main reasons.
Most former journalists left journalism because they wanted to change their profession. However, a good number of them said low salary and better opportunities propelled them to leave, while others mentioned professional hazards including censorship, threats and long working hours as reasons for their exit.
About 58% of working and 62% of former journalists felt ‘unsafe’ to cover critical stories. A good number of journalists say they feel/felt ‘unsafe’ to cover critical stories fearing reprisal and because of practicing journalism in a small close-knit society, lack of adequate skills and objections from their management. At least 47% of working journalists say they have been threatened for covering critical stories against 53% saying they did not encounter any threat.
Almost all working journalists are aware the freedom of press is guaranteed in the Constitution of the country. However, 50% of them disagree that it is in practice. In a similar vein, 45% of former journalists either ‘strongly disagrees’ or ‘disagree’ that there is freedom of press. About 66% of working journalists feel it is ‘difficult’ to access public information. In fact, 11% of them mentioned it is ‘very difficult’. However, 23% of them say it is easy to access public information.
The current media situation is extremely bad, according to most journalists. They said the lack of government support (policy interventions and provision of incentives for quality journalism); unsustainable economics of the media industry, absence of quality journalism and censorship are the main causes. 58% of working journalists mentioned the existing media legislations and policies failed to ensure media development . The journalists working in private media organizations earn far less than those in state-owned ones. 40% of journalists working in private media organizations reported of not receiving their salaries on time (at the end of the month). They have not been paid between one to four months in a row. Some of them reportedly borrowed money from friends and relatives to support themselves while others moved in with their parents and friends.
39% of working journalists are paid a monthly salary of less than Nu 10,000, while 18% are paid above Nu 21,000. The rest earn between Nu 11,000 to 20,000.
18% of journalists mentioned that their management/owners feed them news ideas all the time against 16% saying they never do. Management interference in news
affairs is not so much about feeding news ideas alone. Interference is prevalent in varying degrees. 9% of working journalists ‘strongly agree’ that editorial contents are influenced by the management/owner/board while 28% ‘strongly disagree’. However, 21% of the respondents ‘agree’ that editorial contents are influenced by the management/owner/board while 42% ‘disagree’.
The report says that one of the limitations was that general findings on economic challenges are skewed to some extent by the responses of journalists working with the two big media organizations (Kuensel and BBS).
Three focus group discussions with working journalists, former/freelance journalists and media owners/ managers were held as part of the qualitative approach of the study.
An overwhelming majority of participants from all the three groups highlighted the poor state of media and journalism in Bhutan. They pointed out the urgency to create conducive policies and favorable environment to revive the ‘dying’ media industry. A few participants referred to Bhutan’s private media as a ‘sinking ship’, which, many journalists were now abandoning. A participant remarked, “There are more senior and trained journalists outside the media industry than in the media” which has adversely affected the quality of media content.
Many participants agreed that this was a natural outcome of the poor financial state of the media houses. Eventually, this led to an exodus of trained journalists from the media industry. Many former journalists now work in the private sector, run their own businesses, or have opted for better job opportunities. Participants were of the view that the poor financial position of
news media also directly affected the quality of news content. To cut cost, media houses closed bureau offices, which has had huge implications on the coverage of news stories from rural areas, deepening the urban bias of news reports.
Some of the working journalists shared that if the situation does not improve, they will be forced to leave journalism and look for other job opportunities.
Media owners/managers revealed that sustainability issue is by far their biggest concern. Many of them have given up hope on government interventions to revive the media. Media owners also felt that while government and a few donor agencies are investing in media development, the benefits are not trickling down to the media. They expressed the need for the government to correct the market conditions through right policies. Some of them expressed that if nothing much is done and effectively, it’s only a matter of time when private media will start to close, which could have grave repercussions on media pluralism.
Two of the recommendations were that the government needed to come up with a strong, coherent policy that will address the existing problems faced by private media and institute mechanisms to ensure their sustainability.
Another was the Importance of retaining senior journalists in the media and encouraging former journalists to contribute to the media by writing columns, news pieces, and opinions and by mentoring young group of reporters
A majority of 58% of the working journalists surveyed reported the existing media legislations and polices fail to promote journalism and ensure media development in the country.