Freedom of Speech during the 2013 Elections

Some recent instances have brought the issue of free speech during the 2013 elections to the fore.

There was a formal complaint by the DPT against ‘anonymous users’ of defaming them, and violating social media rules. A look at the social media will show the other parties and its leaders are not being spared such anonymous criticism online either.

The other incident was a call by the same party to do away with the common forum, as it claimed that heated criticisms could lead to untoward incidents between party tshogpas.

During the first Presidential Debate, the PDP president alleged on stage that the debate, instead of being about the introduction to party ideologies, was turning into campaigning.

There have been informal claims by various political parties and their workers on defamation, factually incorrect statements, criticism, etc., against each other, especially in the rural areas.

There have also been various defamatory, at times, ‘contempt of court’ statements made by politicians in the media against journalists, court verdicts, and also Constitutional bodies.

Given the above scenario, there may be an urge among the various stakeholders in the 2013 race to come down heavily on all or any of the above, and look for various means to get redressal either through formal complaints to the ECB or enter into court cases.

However, a clear distinction must be made. Defamatory and untrue statements are not supported by facts, and are not welcome, and the victim can use various laws to get justice. No party, politician, individual, or institution should be the victim of lies and unsubstantiated rumors.

At the same time, political parties and politicians cannot expect special treatment during the election period and claim immunity even from factual criticism based on evidence and facts.

There is no law or rule in the country that prohibits genuine and evidence based professional criticism and evaluation of political parties and politicians.

Restriction or attempts to restrict such genuine criticism by any political party, agency, or individual will constitute as gross violation of the Fundamental Rights and the Fundamental Duties under the Constitution.

Article 7 titled Fundamental Rights, Section 2 states, ‘A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression.’  Section 3 under the Article says, ‘A Bhutanese citizens shall have the Right to Information.’  And Section 5 says, ‘There shall be freedom of the press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information, including electronic.’

Section 23 says that a person in Bhutan shall have the right to initiate appropriate proceedings in the Supreme Court or High Court for the enforcements of the Rights conferred by this Article.

The above rights can only be suspended when it comes to National Security and when an Emergency is declared. There is no mention in the Constitution of the above rights being suspended or restricted in any way during the election period.

Under Article 8 of Fundamental Duty, one provision that clearly stand out is that every person shall have the duty to uphold justice and act against corruption. Here again, there is no clause that this duty has to be stopped during the election period.

Any Act, laws, rules, guidelines and their interpretation have to be in line with the Constitution, or suffer the same fate as the Tax case.

The ECB’s Media Coverage of Elections Rules and Regulations of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2012, if read and correctly understood, is also in line with the Constitution. The rules don’t restrict reporting news, but all that it asks for is, evidence based reporting that does not give credence to political rumors, defamation, or puts the National Security and well being at risk.

Politicians cannot and should not interpret these rules to mean that no media house can criticize political parties or their candidates on factual grounds during the election period.

Such interpretations, apart from being a violation of the Constitution, will also be a big road block in the conduct of free and fair elections.

It will also give an unfair advantage to any incumbent party as it will then mean that neither the media nor other political parties can discuss, evaluate, and criticize the performance of the incumbent government -simply because the party is taking part in the elections.

Such an interpretation will be of disservice to the most important constituent, the voters, as they have the right to be informed by the media– from which they can make their own evaluation and informed choices.

The electoral race will then have to be run and fought on propaganda campaign by parties, instead of real and hard hitting truth that, in most cases, can only be brought out by substantiated criticism from the voters and the media.

The incumbent party – having been in power for many years, has a huge advantage over the new parties.

Another advantage it enjoys can be summed up in a recent example of the ECB letter sent to the Interim Government questioning the Home Ministry’s special protocol treatment for the incumbent party president.

Another example is the MoIC circular, directing the advertisement to be stopped to this paper, sent out by the incumbent government, and the circular, it seems, is still being honored among government ministries to this day – a clear indication of the politicization of sections of the civil service.

As far as 2013 election are concerned, Bhutan is fortunate to have credible and morally upright Election Commissioners who are doing everything in their power to ensure free and fair elections. However, in the distant future, if politicians with vested interests get too much say and have interpretations going their way, then it will be everybody’s democratic right to question if free and fair elections are being held.

It is important to remember that while elections are an important part of democracy, but it is also one of the many components that make up a democracy. Other equally important, if not more important, are rights like, freedom of speech and freedom of media.  Such rights and responsibilities cannot and should not be taken lightly or compromised by any stakeholder in the electoral process. Elections are after all, not conducted to elect the next dictator, but to elect in a democratic spirit – a democratic government who will govern in a democratic way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check Also

Opening up Cautiously

After the second dose there is pressure building up from the public for various relaxations, …

13 comments

  1. I called my father and i was very surprised to hear from him that they are not allowed to discuss about elections among voters. When I pressed him further, he told me that including dungpa and others (????) briefed the voters in the area that any open discussion on election and voting is a crime and it is punishable. As a consequence, they are all hush-hush. 
    The first question that comes to my mind is where is the freedom of speech and the right to freedom. If freedom is not the principle in expressing views, especially this time of the year, voters may make decisions that are biased which would result in elected people not fulfilling the needs of the voters. In addition, this information-weakned environment is a perfect breeding ground for unethical and immoral party-interest players to manipulate free, fair and informed choice of a voter.
    That is why freedom of any form should be allowed to voters so that they can make informed decision for voting to fulfil their interest. That is why democracy is called the most suitable form of governance for the people.
    If responsible citizens do not consciously provide level playing field, bhutan with a tiny population will suffer, and that suffering will entail gross miscalculation. They way forward is provision of freedom so that people make informed choices, and consequently develop the country with all the human intelligence, innovation and creativity.  
    Innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, invention, intelligence by the citizen is the culture that will act like great wall of china for Bhutan from now onwards. Anything other than these factors are of little use to due internet, shark-competition, chips-techonology complementing human disabilities, drones, tourism to outer planets, single-layer atom for machine utilities, robots taking over functions.
    Due to all these reasons, freedom must be promoted; else all of us will lose. The species will be disappear. It is lose-lose; no win-win to anyone and to the society we have now.

  2. When media try to become so smart, there are chances we may receive less of foreign grants. Media people are acting over smart without knowing the ground realities. We can see worst of things happening with the freedom of expression, People do not know what freedom means. they try to swallow the banana with its cover. Take time media people especially those anonymous users and some factual journalists. Don’t try to prove you are right just that you can be heard by more people, try to learn how to appreciate. Have THE BHUTANESE ever wrote a positive article?? Even once??? Thats the question left for you. We don’t want our country to dwindle just because of some over smart acting people….

    • My question to Monu ghishying Tamang, has thebhutanese wrote any unsubstantiated rumours. if they did, why don’t you take them to the court and deal with the matter, once for all. There are four other Newspapers. They are glorifying our country in all ways possible so why are you not happy with that. When one newspaper like this paper tells us hard truth, why can’t you sit down and reflect the truths that are hidden from us. Are you only asking for cover up information? Then read other newspapers. Don’t blame this paper for being patriotic to our country. This paper is mostly concern of our well being. This paper is trying hard to protect our freedom and justices that few people in the government are trying to steal away our precious gifts from our Kings. 

      • Monu Ghishying T

        First of all reveal your identity and talk in public if you have the courage and evidences to. Otherwise why you hide your face and bark from behind. 

        • MOnu Ghishying t; let me share you one thing, r u related any incumbent dpt govt. memebers. y r u being hurt wen truth is being flung being ur face, r u guilty, u must be cos u seem to be. If u dnt have the courage to swallow the truth , just hang and die…otherwise if u can criticise be ready to take criticism….

    • tamang bhai….take some ice cold water…yea you are right that we see less article in favor of the previous govt,,,but good thing is we are fed with truth and thats why most of the public are not so furious at this paper like you seems to be. clear indications that truth stings…

  3. Monu Bhai. Do you think that JYT would have let go of tenzing Lamzang and this paper merely by saying, we are promoting media without knowing the facts. It is becoz of this paper that the health corruption is being cleaned, eduction procurement, gyelpozing people will get back their land, chang ugyen had to replace 7 or more acres of land (although from remote areas), road contracts at Zhemgang proscecuted and so many. we the people should be proud of this paper and Tenzing Lamzang for his bravery to stand up and face the goliath. Maybe you will be able to buy a piece of land in the future bocoz of the actions of this paper. K5s dream is that all bhutanese should have a home. To realize that dream, we need to combat corruption. ACC only cannot do it, if You, me and the rest of the citizen are brave enough. Maybe our children will have a better place to live in, As of now and if you are not blind, i think you should thank this paper and tenzing lamzang. It is not about few people, or any political party. This concerns you, me and everyone if we love this country. As for me, such investigative papers should be encouraged more and more such papers should come.

  4. Anti thebhutanese

    Hello Monu,

    Well said. I and most of the bhutanese people including you were fed up to read thebhutanese news. I wish who ever party come to the power can fix this paper and owner without any mercy. Hope someone will do soon so that at least we can get other news for the interest of the Bhutanese people. The one sided news of thebhutanese is totally useless and thought less which will pose more danger to our peaceful nation. DPT has so many points but letting this paper to dance until a day that will lead to Chamgang without bailable. Let all of us wait and watch this to happen no soon. 

  5. aata ghishying, i am fed up of reading kuensel . its monotonous. longed to read investigative articles and this paper is writing facts not essays. i like it. you see truth cannot be hidden. one day it has to be made public, so sooner the better it is, isn’t it? i want to support this paper wholeheartedly for the real patriots are these people not those who hide facts.

  6. Monu Ghishying T

    I can see how depressing it is to do the work and be not appreciated. The Bhutanese did a lot, yet when i fail to appreciate those little they have done, I can see the outcry. How about our government? Don’t they deserve appreciation? Do they deserve only one sided biased news? It is not that you can’t point out the faults and follies, at the same time write something good and positive about the government. People don’t like only one sided news. It looks like manipulated one

  7. don’t worry monu bhai, the PRADOS and LANDY , the I phones and all the goods will make up for all the bashing that they have caused on themselves. simple maths => don’t give the journalists stuff to write about scams and grabs of lands, power and PRADOs and there will be zero things to write about. Courts and ACC will not prove you wrong. Freedom!

  8. Yes, The Bhutanese and Tenzin Lamsang in the past five years have done a world of good for investigative journalism and exposed powerful and influential people involved in the corrupt practices, these are no doubt the papers positive contribution to the Bhutanese media at large. It has made the rich, powerful and corrupt people to think twice before they conduct their dodgy businesses. It’s a service to Bhutanese democracy and the people have appreciated that, but mind you when anything that is taken to the extreme and viewed through a highly biased lens, then it’s a cause of concern for the Bhutanese polity. This might potentially destroy all the hard work of our forefathers who built the Bhutan that we have inherited and in the long run you could possibly succeed in creating unfounded anger, resentment and anxiety in the society. The last five year is just a short paragraph in that long history that Bhutan is as an independent and a sovereign State with great examples of leadership starting from the Great Zhabdrung to all our beloved Monarchs. My observation is that the paper seems to view everything and everything through its self righteous critical lens similar to its editor’s style and cant seem to see anything good in the works done by past ruling government particularly the PM. This is a dangerous trend when an ethical journalism asks for objective, balanced and an unbiased information informing its audience the truth as it is and not a fabricated view dictated by few who consider themselves the leader of “A crusade against corruption”. Nevertheless, for all the good work the paper has done in informing, misinforming and sowing seeds of discord – creating heroes out of some and villains out of few – it all seems like a Bollywood film from the 70’s. Hopefully this time around, in the Land of dignified thunder dragon the collective wisdom of the Bhutanese people will decide what the truth is and not some mouthpiece of certain interest groups who are willing to go any lengths in painting a picture of Bhutan that is incomplete. I hope the editorial team of the Bhutanese is aware of what is at stake for a small nation like ours that has been built not in the last 5 years of your business operations but rather hundreds of years and tens of centuries before that. As an end note, I still support the good work you guys do mindfully with wisdom and best of intentions for the interest of the nation and it’s people, most importantly for the continued peace, stability and prosperity of Glorious Palden Drukpa.

  9. Article 8.3 also says “A Bhutanese shall foster tolerance, mutual respect, spirit of brotherhood amongst all people of Bhutan transcending religious, linguistic, regional or sectional diversities”

    Anyway, I digress..

    The Kkey to the argument in this article is this line “There is no law or rule in the country that prohibits genuine and evidence based professional criticism and evaluation of political parties and politicians”

    How much is genuine and professional criticism seems to be a matter of opinion and this paper seems to have a lot of its own definition of professional criticism.

    But there is a report of the “decline in public trust of the media”. I wonder if this has anything to do with the level of professionalism and genuine evidence in the stories of the Bhutanese media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *