Many in the public domain dismissed the controversy on the divergent views of the Agriculture Minister and the Ministry of Agriculture on the issue of the ban of import of vegetables and fruits as a ‘miscommunication.’
However, the real problem is much more serious. The problem is of the government lying to the media and the people and trying to get away with it to avoid criticism for a bad decision.
In the Agriculture’s Minister’s own recorded words there was definitely a clear government decision to ban the import of fruits and vegetables after some discussion, and it was authorized and cleared by none other than the Prime Minister. It was also implemented at the border.
The poorly thought out decision started back firing from day one as it led to panic buying, increase in prices and public anger.
Rather than admit that it had made a mistake and withdraw the decision transparently, the government pretended it never made such a decision and withdrew the decision by issuing a circular saying there never was a ban in the first place.
In the process of avoiding criticism, it effectively threw the media under the bus which had reported about the ban based on Lyonpo’s assertions. Members of the public started blaming the media for reporting fake news and creating panic in the first place.
This whole episode not only damages the media, but it will shake the media’s trust in the government, especially at a time when the media has been going out of its way to cooperate with the government on the fight against COVID-19.
However, such behaviour by the government should not come as a surprise from a government which has been competing with the media to break news on its own social media platforms.
The Agriculture Minister announcing important policy decisions like a meat ban or a vegetable import ban on his facebook page is only part of a larger trend in the government.
During the whole COVID-19 advocacy program the government messaging saying to trust information from only the PMO, MoH and WHO is an implication that the media cannot be trusted.
It is the responsibility of the government to help protect the credibility of the media at a time when fake news is rampant and not recklessly wreck it just to avoid some criticism or break its own news first.
The media must also have the intelligence to stand up for its own factual stories, and develop the courage to point out a clear government lie.
Honesty is the best policy.