BICMA directed the Kamji Middle Secondary School principal to withdraw the allegations
In the last week of July, 2012 during the monthly meet the press, two reporters from The Journalist newspaper came under a scathing attack from the Education Minister Lyonpo Thakur S. Powdyel for improper personal behavior in investigating a student suicide case in Kamji Middle Secondary School.
The Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley alleged that the article was ‘irresponsible’ and that ‘great harm’ had been done.
The allegations made against the two reporters by the education minister was carried faithfully by the majority of the print and broadcast media. The focus entirely shifted from the suicide of the student to the alleged bad behavior of the reporters.
Three months later a Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) report based on a detailed investigation has established that the reporters are innocent of the charges of personal misbehavior labeled against them.
The BICMA report comes after the Principal of Kamji Middle Secondary School (KMSS) had lodged a complaint with BICMA through the district education officer, Chukha around three months ago.
In the complaint it was mainly alleged that the reporters, Tshering Wangchen and Adarsh Gurung had visited the school in informal dress, intimidated and provoked the principal during the interview and smoked in the school campus. It was also alleged that they had offered cigarettes to students.
The authority apart from finding no evidence of such behavior directed the KMSS principal to withdraw allegations made against two reporters of the The Journalist.
The BICMA report says, “Submissions that the journalists have visited the school in informal dress; intimidated and provoked the principal during the interview; and smoked in the school campus are not supported by the evidences submitted.”
The review report also states that allegations made by the principal against the newspaper for running “misleading stories” where the principal was alleged of using “rampant corporal punishment” has not been examined by the authority as the allegation amounts to pressing defamatory charges, and therefore are not within the jurisdiction of BICMA.
On May 20, 2012 a student of KMSS committed suicide but the issue actually surfaced after The Journalist ran a story on June 17 on the suicide case “A reign of terror”. The paper ran a follow-up story titled “Kamji suicide needs proper investigation” on June 24, 2012.
The school principal appealed against the stories published by The Journalist through the district education officer (DEO), Chukha Dzongkhag which was formally forwarded to BICMA on July 5, 2012.
After collecting information and evidences from both the parties, two BICMA officials visited KMSS on September 5, 2012 to cross-examine the witnesses. The BICMA report on the issue is based on interviews with the principal, students, local school staff, reporters and photographic and audio recording evidences given by the reporters.
Tshering Wangchen said everything was based on facts and information provided by the witnesses. “We didn’t break any law,” he added.
Former editor of The Journalist, Tshering Chuki Gyamtsho who was the editor at the time said she was aware that the investigation by education officials was “going to be biased”.
She said “Lyonpo, without listening to our part of the story made serious allegations against my reporters”. She said it would have been fair if “allegations were on the content of the story but it was on the behavior”.
Tshering Wangchen said he was disheartened by all the baseless allegations when they thought the ministry would actually support the reporters. “We thought Lyonpo would look into the matter as such cases may have occurred in other schools across the country apart from Kamji,” he said.
Tshering Chuki Gyamtsho said Lyonpo’s allegations against the reporters were made on national TV and broadcast as news in three different languages owing to which a “lot of damage was done”. “I and my reporters were also mocked at by the people”.
“I don’t know how authentic the BICMA report will be for them but we would like to see how the ministry is going to react to it because the reputation of my two reporters has been jeopardized,” she concluded.
“We have always thought that one day or the other, the truth shall come out,” Tshering Wangchen said.
The Bhutanese couldn’t get in touch with the education minister, education secretary, KMSS principal and the Chukha DEO despite repeated efforts to contact them over the landline and mobile.
The current editor of The Journalist, Kencho Wangdi a senior journalist and formerly a News Editor in Kuensel said, “We stand by our story, we stand by the factual correctness of the story and all along the right authority which is BICMA has corroborated our stand.” He said that the paper feels vindicated after BICMA’s findings.
BICMA’s only caution to the two journalists is that a few children interviewed were below 16 years of age and so parental consent is required as per the Journalist Code of Ethics.
The Journalist on 30th July, 2012 had filed a request for intervention to the Journalists Association of Bhutan on the grounds that the allegations by the minister had irreparably damaged the reputation of the paper.