In what’s increasingly looking like a well coordinated strategy from the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party, its party president Jigmi Y Thinley and candidates have pressed a series of allegations leading to defamation against the paper.
The reactions are in response to the story by this paper on ex-ministers and their spouses owning land near the Education City and on issues of transparency and conflict of interest in the mega project.
The first remark was made DPT candidate Kesang Wangdi from the Khamdang-Ramjar constituency under Trashiyangtse during the BBS General Elections Common Forum held on Sunday, 23 June 2013.
Kesang Wangdi, in response to a question from the audience on the news article on the Education City, made several defamatory statements against The Bhutanese.
He announced to the nation that the news reports by other newspapers can be trusted, but not the news that come from The Bhutanese. The MP also insinuated that the paper is also behind malicious online content. He also said that The Bhutanese had been banned for a while by the government. He also denied this paper’s story on ex-ministers and their wives owning land near the Education City.
The paper, in response, has filed a formal complaint with the Election Commission of Bhutan on June 24 for violating various provisions in the Constitution, Election Act and Election rules and defaming the paper.
Later in the evening this was followed with more defamation as the DPT president Jigmi Y Thinley alleged that The Bhutanese is supposedly an organ of the PDP. He also alleged that The Bhutanese was started by the PDP.
The DPT President at the Press Conference said, “We are being influenced and misled and misguided by the combination of the two organs of PDP- Bhutanomics and The Bhutanese.”
In the same evening, the DPT candidate of Bongo-Chapcha Ugay Tshering, while responding to a question on corruption charges, again repeated assertions that the paper is owned by the former Opposition Leader’s brother.
Responding to the allegations against the paper, the Editor-in-Chief, The Bhutanese Tenzing Lamsang said, “The allegations made by the DPT president are defamation at its absolute worst. I am saddened and disappointed that a respected leader like the former Prime Minister of Bhutan has presented such untrue information to the nation.”
The companies share certificate ownership papers whose copies are with BICMA and the Registrar of Companies show that none of the owners are politicians, PDP members or related to any PDP politician. 70 percent of the company is in Singye Namgyel’s name (not former OL’s brother) with 25 percent in Tenzing Lamsang’s name and five percent in a family member’s name.
Responding to allegations that The Bhutanese Editor was pro-PDP, Tenzing Lamsang said, “A few years back when I did stories on Bjemina, Phobjika and Damchen’s stone quarries, I was called a DPT reporter by PDP supporters. Now that I have done Gyelpozhing, Chang Ugyen and Education City, I am being called a PDP reporter by DPT supporters. In some ways, this is a compliment and shows that the media is doing its job.”
He said, “In the future, if PDP or any other party comes to power in 2013 or 2018, they will find it to their disappointment that we will be their biggest media headache, as it will be our job to check the government of the day. This is an uncompromising assurance to all our readers who matter, and not PDP, DPT or any other party. If we falter, then our readers can hold us to account.”
On why The Bhutanese carried more critical stories on DPT than on PDP, the Editor explained that since DPT was in the government, it would have committed more mistakes and this was also in the context that the paper having an investigative mandate.
Allegations were also made by the Prime Minister hinting that The Bhutanese and Bhutanomics are linked.
To this Tenzing Lamsang said, “As the ex-Prime Minister said in the past such sites with the right resources and technical help can be tracked. Please do so, and if the DPT can even provide even partial evidence that Bhutanomics and The Bhutanese have any links then I will quit journalism for good.”
The Editor said that DPT and its President was making it increasingly difficult for the paper to avoid an acrimonious and time consuming legal battle with increasing allegations every day, a legal battle that would prove the DPT President wrong on every count.
The Bhutanese was the first Bhutanese paper to publish an Editorial Policy so that it can be held to account by its readers.