Three private radio stations and two news magazines have also folded
In a reflection of the long standing and ongoing sustainability crisis in the private media, the Druk Neytshul newspaper, a private weekly Dzongkha newspaper shut down this month.
The owner of the paper, Namgay Wangdi, said, “The main reason to shut down is financial as there is just not enough advertisements to sustain the paper.”
He said that the main source of revenue for a newspaper is advertisement, and particularly government advertisement but that had declined over the years.
The shutting of the newspaper will add nine unemployed media professionals to the unemployment market, and some of them have families to support. The nine does not include the staff retrenchment over the years as it cut costs to survive.
Namgay said that while Dzongkha is the national language and a lot of lip service is paid to it, government agencies themselves refused to advertise with the paper citing lower readership.
Druk Neytshul is not the first private paper to shut down though, and is in fact fifth in line.
The first private paper to shut down was the private weekly Bhutan Observer in 2013, as it was unable to meet its operating expenses.
Bhutan Observer shutting down was actually equivalent to two papers shutting down as it earlier had a BO Dzongkha paper and team which was also shut down.
The paper was historically important in being the second private paper after Bhutan Times, and it was established when media was liberalized in 2006.
This was followed by the shutting of the weekly youth oriented newspaper called ‘Bhutan Youth,’ in the same year. The main reason was sustainability.
In the subsequent years two Dzongkha weekly papers, Druk Melong and Druk Yoedzer also closed down, again due to advertisement revenue not being enough.
This means that Bhutan, which once had 12 newspapers including Kuensel, is now down to seven newspapers only. Of the seven the six private newspapers are Bhutan Times, Bhutan Today, Business Bhutan, The Journalist, Gyalchi Sarshog and The Bhutanese.
In between the scenario was also not good for private radio stations as three of them, Radio High, Radio Waves and Radio Centennial also shut down one after the other as the revenue dried down to nothing for them.
Similarly, two newsmagazines Drukpa and Raven also had a brief run before closing down due to lack of advertisements.
The three existing radio stations (apart from BBS) are Radio Kuzoo, Radio Valley and Yiga Radio. The last radio station having only a one woman run station subsidized by a hardware shop.
Ironically, over a period of three elected governments, the media has received rich lip service, promises and have even been included in the manifestos of all three elected governments.
The reality, is that not much has been done, and in fact the main reason for the decline of the media sustainability has been government policies starting all the way from 2010.
The private media even with multiple newspapers and radio stations were sustainable and in fact thriving until 2010, when the decline started.
The main reason being a series of cost cutting and austerity measures led by all three governments, where one of the main target areas was the advertisement budget.
The advertisement budget is one of the smallest expense heads of the budget but this component was ruthlessly cut by successive governments with no care to the impact on the media.
Even the current government has announced austerity measures and it again targets the already small advertisement budget again- advocating e-procurement over giving advertisements to the media.
Except for BBS and Kuensel, all existing media houses are loaded with debt, and while some are break even a fair number are running at a loss with skeletal staff.
The best example of private media decline is the country’s first private newspaper, Bhutan Times. In its heyday in 2008, it had more than 100 employees and a valuation of around Nu 40 mn.
Today it is down to 10 staff, and its combined assets would not even fetch Nu 1 mn.
Within the private media, the feeling is that the next four years may be the last hope for a turnaround in the private media before even this skeletal structure collapses.
There is a real possibility that Bhutan, in the near future, could soon be left facing the prospect of having only two state owned media, in an era when political parties run the government and the government in turn, own these two state owned media outlets with the power to appoint and change the board and its MDs.