Another shoot and scoot by the Opposition

In the middle of the 2013 elections two candidates from the DPT party made two strange and completely untrue statements. One was that The Bhutanese is owned by then Opposition leader and now Prime Minister’s brother and the other is that The Bhutanese is the same as the Bhutanomics website.

One was forced to withdraw his baseless statement after a complaint to the Election Commission by this paper while another was unable to prove his allegation coming close to a defamation lawsuit. It must be clarified that both candidates are not in the Parliament.

In yet another episode of a ‘shoot and scoot,’ this time the usually mild mannered Opposition Leader in a debate on press freedom during the Question hour accused The Bhutanese by name of going harsh on the former government and by contrast going easy on the current one.

Apart from the sheer pettiness of fingering an individual newspaper by name in a Parliamentary forum, where the newspaper cannot defend itself, it also shows the still glowering vindictiveness of a political party and its leaders against a paper that investigated and proved major corruption charges against it and its leaders, while in its time in power.

This is just niceties on the surface as mainly anonymous online supporters of the party have not even hesitated to issue regular death threats to the Editor of this paper on online forums for simply doing his job. Some of these anonymous figures have even not hesitated to launch regular and vicious racist attacks against the Editor of the paper that would even put Neo-Nazi racist groups in Europe to shame. The attacks include even falsely attacking family members.

All of this attention is because The Bhutanese newspaper dared to point to some inconvenient truths at a time when senior members of the former government were involved in many dodgy deals and ran governance in an authoritarian way.

The logic of then ruling and now Opposition party is now just because The Bhutanese ran investigative stories on the former government, which seemed to have a finger in one too many pies it should also run the very same stories for this government.

This logic would be completely acceptable if, to put it plainly, this government was anywhere near as corrupt and authoritarian as the former one.

Yes, this government has it fair share of faults and deficits but so far leave alone this paper no major investigative agency from the RAA to the ACC has been able to find anything close to what the former government did.

To speak even more plainly the former government saw a continuation of the dubious old patronage networks with a web that extended and made many happy and some even rich. However, after the backlash it received and the subsequent public opinion and electoral results, no right thinking party will even think of doing what was done before.

This paper also had to pay a heavy price for its battles with the former government, for a few months after its launch, a confidential government circular stopped advertisement to the paper drastically hitting its finances.

The impact was telling as a company of around 40 employees with a biweekly publication was reduced to being a weekly with around 16 staff. In that sense The Bhutanese of today is not in the same league of The Bhutanese of then as a simple reason is we don’t have the same manpower and capacity.

The bitter battering that The Bhutanese received not only through a ban of advertisements but also regular and sustained attacks from the highest levels of the former government ensured that a message was sent down the line to other media houses that started playing it safe.

If the media bloomed from 2006 to 2010 it was the post 2010 to especially 2013 period when some of the biggest blows were struck from which the press is yet to revive and perhaps never will to its full glory.

The former government from 2010 onwards also carried out a series of austerity measures that severely reduced the overall advertisement budget while at the same time encouraging state giants like BBS already funded by the government to grab what was left by becoming more commercial. The private media did not stand a chance both editorially and financially.

In that sense the Opposition asking why the media is not doing well is like puncturing a tank and then wondering why it cannot hold as much water as before.

Learning in many ways from the lessons of the past this government can be faulted on the other extreme of playing it too safe and with an almost obsessive desire to avoid controversies and also almost instantly respond to the slightest hint of public disapproval.

This strategy may have its flaws but it also avoids controversies and avoids embarrassing stories.

One of the biggest stories against the current government was that of the former Foreign Minister of the current government in the Lhakhang Karpo case. If any member of the Opposition paid any attention, the first major story by this paper on Lhakhang Karpo had more issues pointed out in it then even the eventual ACC report that came out later.

Another investigative story by the paper implicated MPs which included those of the ruling government in a Prado import issue.

It is for stories like this and others that ensured that The Bhutanese won the best investigative story award two years in a row for 2014 and 2015.

This paper has also not hesitated to lambast the Prime Minister and the government for decisions like MP’s incentives, taxes, LPG Gas mishandling, lack of progress in the private sector etc.

The worst mistakes of the former government were made through avoidable decisions and also some deliberate ones in the last two years of its term. This government still has slightly more than that time left and one would never know what can happen in the future.

Just as an exercise it would be an interesting read for some people to visit the comments section of the Prime Minister’s blogs between 2008 and 2010 as Opposition Leader where at the time anonymous PDP supporters also attacked the Editor of this paper who was then working in Kuensel. There were attacks on other online forums by other anonymous people too.

The anonymous attacks were in response to multiple investigative stories done against perceived major PDP supporters and their business houses by the Editor in his capacity as Chief Reporter at Kuensel.

 

Numerous politicians have seized absolute power and muzzled the press. Never in history has the press seized absolute power and muzzled the politicians.

David Brinkley

 

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