Political parties, cutting across party lines, have expressed concerns that the DPT President Jigmi Y Thinley’s recent statements on the media will hamper a Free Press and Freedom of Speech in Bhutan.
The DPT President started his general election campaign from YDF Hall in Thimphu with a series of threats and warnings to the media.
Warning media house owners and also accusing the media of creating disharmony and spoiling the country’s image, the DPT President said, “I will not leave you.” He said he will see to this, whether he comes back to power or not, as he would use his ‘democratic rights’ to get to the people behind it all.
The former Prime Minister clubbing the news media and social media together said that they were engaged in ‘anti-national activities.’
He said the government, which had tolerated criticism for a long time, could not do so when the ‘country’s distorted image’ is being shown outside. He also said that some media existed just to pull the government down.
Without any evidence, he has accused the media of creating and spreading regionalism in the country. The DPT President repeated the same tirade in his Paro campaign a day later, saying the media was creating regionalism, again without providing any evidence.
All parties disagreed with the DPT President’s remarks on media creating regionalism, and have instead said that the media was fighting against regionalism.
Druk Nyamprup Tshogpa (DNT) spokesperson Dr Tandin Dorji said, “I totally disagree with the DPT Presidents statements and the media instead has been educating the people against regionalism and regional politics.”
Both the Druk Chirwang Tshogpa President Lily Wangchhuk and the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party Vice President Tshewang Tashi also had similar views on media not promoting regionalism.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Vice President Damcho Dorji said that he has seen no evidence of the media carrying any content to encourage regionalism. “Instead there is a perception that political parties and some party workers have been creating regionalism and regional politics,” he said.
With regard to his statements against the media the BKP Vice President Tshewang Tashi said, “Media freedom is a part and parcel of democracy, and if you are saying no to media freedom then you are saying no to democracy.”
She said it also depends on who has made such statements. “When such statements are made by the DPT Party President then it is being made by someone who can carry out the threats, and in fact, in the past they have done such things and have also gotten away with it.”
The DCT President also stressing on the importance of media in a democracy said that to promote a vibrant democracy the media should be free and independent, and allowed to work without fear and favor. “These statements are not good, especially with the democratic principles we all are trying to promote,” said Lily Wangchhuk.
DNT’s Dr Tandin said, “Media is very important for democracy, and in fact, because DNT believed in it we wanted to bring in the RTI to help improve transparency and also ensure that the media gets information. Therefore, we are quite alarmed at the statements made by the leader of the party (DPT) that threatened the media. We truly hope that it was not meant in the manner in which it was said.”
He also added, “We hope that media will not be crushed, especially in Bhutan’s context, where the media is dependant mainly on the government for its revenue. We hope that the media will continue to remain independent.”
The PDP President said, “The DPT President is showing his true colors, instead of making wild threats, ranting, raving and injecting fear into the voters just before elections. He should provide specifics, numbers, and facts and pursue anything legally if it is unlawful.”
“Our voters should be wise enough to see this and our media should be courageous enough to understand his strategy which has no legal basis,” said the PDP President.
The PDP President also said that citizens should now realize what would happen if DPT came to power, as the DPT President had already made his intentions clear on the media.
He also said that the DPT President has failed to understand the social media and its enormous potential for good.
The PDP Vice President Damcho Dorji said, “I think it is sad that the ex-Prime Minister is making such statements five years after democracy has been introduced. This only indicates that democracy has not made progress since its inception, and so it needs to be both strengthened and life has to be given to the democratic principles in the Constitution. This is also shows we are at a cross roads from where Democracy can take a path, either good or bad. ”
He said the statements of the DPT President were of concern to all citizens and especially the media, as the cornerstone of democracy is supported by the Constitution under Fundamental Rights like Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press.
“When others make such threats it can be taken lightly, but when a person who has governed the country for five years and is the head of one of the two parties says such things then it is a matter of concern for all of us. This is why new political parties and especially PDP has focused on the need to strengthen our democracy and implement fundamental rights.”
Damcho Dorji said that any party that comes to power should respect the will of the people and the media’s rights enshrined in the Constitution or only infuriate the people even more.
He said that the DPT’ President’s statements was timed just at the start of the General Election campaigns to ensure that the media does not make any noise during its campaign period.
The Vice President said that if democratic principles and rights were not respected then Bhutanese Democracy would only be a democracy in name with elections held every five years.
He said that whether PDP formed the government or was in Opposition, it would do everything to ensure that democracy is strengthened, Fundamental Rights are respected, democratic principles implemented, and media freedom protected.
Tenzing Lamsang/ Thimphu