Despite promises no help for a dying private media

The State of The Nation Report says that the government is concerned about the sustainability of the private media as Bhutan is only left with five private newspapers and one state owned daily.

One of the key pledges of DNT in its manifesto is to strengthen the Bhutanese news media and extend necessary support to media organisations.

However, there is a growing and unanimous feeling in the private media that the DNT government, far from strengthening the Bhutanese news media, is unintentionally weakening it through an aggressive implementation of the e-procurement system that has lead to a drastic drop in government advertisements.

The bulk of media revenue come from government advertisements and ‘no advertisement simply means no media.’ The media has already been hit by austerity measures from 2010 onwards that cut down media advertisement.

Private media houses have gone to the extent of each and every one writing stories and editorials on the worsening sustainability issue of the media but no heed has been paid.

Two petitions have also been put up up by all private media houses to the government but it has also not elicited any action.

Already in the 8-month tenure of the government a Dzongkha paper has shutdown and the last Dzongkha paper has suspended its printing which is as good as a shutdown.

The situation of others also does not look good as evidenced in the statements of both media owners and journalists to this paper.

When asked about the commitment of the government to its pledge and also the media the Prime Minister Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that the same issue would come up even in the 20th, 30th or 50th government.

He said as far as the independence of the media is concerned there are no restrictions and the government has no ulterior motives.

The PM asked the media for specific suggestions to deal with the issue.

This is though the private media houses already provided specific suggestions running into pages to the PMO twice in the last eight months including an informal cabinet presentation highlighting specific solutions from the private media.

The Prime Minister for all practical purposes seemed to be going back to the drawing board again when the blue prints had already been provided by the private media.

The PM said that he would do whatever is possible on sustainability issues but he said the government cannot forever bail out or keep paying media houses and he said it is not suitable for the government to keep chipping money.

The private media had earlier already provided a range of policy options to the government in its presentations and the main ones like on advertisements did not require any funds from the government.

The PM alluded that the closure of the last Dzongkha paper was due to readership.

Lyonchhen asked if seven media for 700,000 Bhutanese is too much.

Though the private media had already clarified it supports e-procurement, provided advertisements are also given in the media, the PM again questioned why the private media was against e-procurement and he talked of the benefits of e-procurement.

The Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the MoF is only piloting the e-procurement though ground reports show that most Dzongkhags and many central agencies have adopted it already and then he alluded the advantages of e-procurement.

The PM once again asked for suggestions from the private media adding that there is no country in the world where the print media does not have a problem.

Meanwhile, a senior government official said that the cabinet has already shot down the joint presentation of all the private media houses giving through the Media Association of Bhutan and no help would be forthcoming.

The presentation by the MAB had highlighted the severity of the problem, the causes and the solutions, which included policy initiatives.

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