One of the chapters in Gyambo Sithey’s latest book, “Democracy in Bhutan- the First Five Years,” provides an analysis of the transition of media in Bhutan over the past years.
It includes how the media scenario in the country progressed, the impact it had on democratic Bhutan, how the private newspapers changed the trajectory of news from that of developmental reporting to critical coverage, controlling the media, a financial crisis ridden private media, its ‘bittersweet ‘ relation with the government, its relation with authorities and the future of Bhutanese media.
“The impact of media in Bhutan in the first five years of democracy has been tremendous… but the transition came at a cost,” the author wrote.
The author applauded Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), the first democratically elected government for a successful conversion to a healthy democracy and that the nation saw a sound democracy taking roots despite several issues during the first years of democratic governance.
“All three arms of the government- the executive, the legislative and the judiciary- was consolidated. The only institution that has experienced a rather woolly development is the media,” Gyambo has mentioned.
The book indicates how state-owned media flourished in the past years while the story has been different for the private media in Bhutan. The beginning of 2012, the author noted was also the beginning of the fall of the private media though it did well after it started in 2006.
The book also highlights how all media houses in Bhutan, overly dependent on government advertisements, suffered a hard hit following the Indian Rupee (INR) crisis which led to shortfall in the Government Exchequer.
From just three media houses in 2007, the country currently has twelve, one broadcast media and 11 newspapers.
“It can also be said that the Bhutan Broadcasting Services (BBS) and Kuensel are the only two media houses whose survival doesn’t depend on the fluctuations of advertisement flow in the market,” the book states.
Most media houses in the country are still not in a position to pay the salaries of its staff on time despite cost cutting measures such as downsizing of employees.
According to the book, “The situation of the private media cannot be blamed on the elected government in entirety though the private media has been vehemently pushing the opinion. The DPT, however, did not take any tangible efforts to intervene and help the deteriorating media situation.”
The book also documented some of the biggest visible impact of the media in the form of breaking news articles exposing major government failings such as the Bhutan Lottery Scam in India, approval on several new taxes by the Cabinet without being tabled in Parliament, and the Gyalpozhing land scam among others.
Controlling the media
The book also documented various actions taken by the DPT administration, such as introduction of new ad policies, failure to legislate the promised Right to Information (RTI) law and issuance of dishonorable circulars by the government among others.
The author has also annexed copies of documents including a letter sent to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) by DPT in an attempt to stop his book from being released and a “confidential” circular issued under the order of former Information and Communications (MoIC) Minister Nandalal Rai to a department clearly directing it “not to entertain any advertisement, announcement, notification, circular, etc. to the media ‘The Bhutanese’.
However, the minister justified it as a “miscommunication” between him and his subordinate who drafted the letter.
The author reminded readers of the Finance Ministry’s circular which said, “Advertisement meant for nationwide coverage should be given to a newspaper with nationwide circulation for eg. Kuensel.” The book also noted that both the ad policy and the circular emphasized that the circulation figure would determine to a large extent which newspapers would get government advertisements.
A copy of a letter dated June 26, 2013 which has been published in the book revealed that the DPT had tried to stop the book from being released on the basis of a news article by a private newspaper on one of the chapters in the book. However, it proved futile as the book was launched on October 3, 2013.
Talking to The Bhutanese, the author said it would be unfair for anyone to judge a book and come to a decision based on a single news article by a newspaper.
“It would have been better if they had read the book and made the decision,” he added.
The book which is an analysis and documentation of institutions, events and policies between 2008-2013 also serves as an audit report of the first five years of democratic Bhutan. The 11- chapters in the book include an independent enquiry of the pledges claimed to have been fulfilled by the DPT administration, transformation of the media, details of the first constitutional case, the ‘bittersweet’ relation between the two houses of the Parliament, CDG and the economy among other analysis of institutions, events and policies over the last five years.
Research, publication and production of the book have been supported by Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD).
“My whole intention is to present facts with figures and not opinions. So, I have tried not to use any opinions in my book. I tried to present the truth supported by statistics and evidences. I am not saying this is a fair or balanced book because ‘fair’ or ‘balanced’ also means you are taking a stand or a position and that you are neither being true nor false which is not good in a research. In research, you just present the facts,” Gyambo Sithey has said.
He is currently working on a sequel of a book “Drukyul Decides II” slated to be released by the end of the year.