Government-private cross-fire brings newspaper employees to dire straits

The government’s giant ‘cost-cutting hammer’ has fallen on private newspapers. While establishments have started to notice the glaring fault lines, the first to be crushed are the employees

If the current advertisement situation persists, which is, the government’s recent cut-down on the advertisements to private newspapers, many people from these firms will soon join fresh graduates in the market on a job-hunt.

For this group of people, in this line of job, it has been a nightmarish time, for a long time, where daily life is a non-stop replay of depleting rations, pending utilities with electricity authorities, water charges with the municipality, and half-paid or not-paid-at-all rents with respective irate house owners.

An added routine to their usual schedule of works are time wasted to chart routes to avoid bumping into house owners or other sundry debtors. Some have run-up substantial debt amounts which totaled as a result of multiple borrowings due to the unavoidably acquired vicious habit to borrow.

Many in this circle say they have to pull-off unbelievably embarrassing stunts and alibis to hide from land lords to save humiliation in a neighborhood.

After countless borrowings, they have run out of sources to borrow money, and they have lost all dignity and reputation with those that they have revisited for additional lending.

A reporter for Bhutan Today and a single mother of two, Chencho Dema is knee deep in debts.

It has been three months that Chencho Dema did not receive her salary, she had to borrow from her friends to pay two months’ house rent, and she even reached a situation where she literally had to borrow money to buy her baby’s diapers.

Chencho Dema not only owes money to her friends but has huge dues with the grocery shops and garment shops; she even reached a stage where she asked a cabbie to drop her to office on credit.

“Right now I am at least managing because my father is helping me, but, for how long, I have to do something,” said Chencho Dema.

She said everyday was a pedestrian day for her (lives in double turning near upper Motithang) and that it was affecting her work.

“It tires me to walk to office and home every day. I also need to breast feed my baby for which I have to walk home between working hours. There are times when I have to compromise on my baby’s timing.”

Chencho Dema said due to financial crunches she even had to sell her household and personal items like tables and kiras. To make ends meet, she has also started selling homemade chili pickles.

“The government doesn’t have a seven month old baby to look after, they should reconsider their decision as this not only impacts the company but the people in it as well,” said Chencho Dema.

Another Bhutan Today reporter, M B Subba is in the same predicament. He said because he was an employee of a private newspaper, people were not willing to lend him money.

M B Subba has been unable to pay off his house rent, canteen and grocery shop dues and he said that it was embarrassing when the people kept nagging him.

“What has kept us going is our love for this profession but now it has become a fight between profession and passion. When looking at reality, the current state that we are in we might have to look for other jobs, but, what jobs do journalist get, we have no other experiences,” said M B Subba.

Currently Bhutan Today has about 34 staffs.

A reporter from The Journalist, Tshering Dorji said that they had received just half of the two months’ salary; he worries that if the company shuts down he would have to look for a job elsewhere.

Tshering Dorji has been having some domestic problems with his wife due to monetary issues and his wife has asked him to look for another job.

Being torn between his two passions, his work and his wife, Tshering Dorji hopes that the government reconsiders its decisions and distributes advertisement fairly and equally and not just based on the paper’s reach.

The Journalist has 34 staff.

Speaking to the CEO of Bhutan Times, Ugyen Pelgen, he said the company faces many problems, like when their staff went in for advertisements, they are told that they would only advertise with the Kuensel.

And there were instances where some clients tell the office that they would advertise only on rotational basis without even looking at the paper’s circulation and reach.

“What happens at the end of the day, are the difficulties in trying to meet the expenses. We are in a dire situation,” said Ugyen Pelgen.

He said Bhutan Times suffered loss for three months but, somehow managed from their earlier supplements they had received.

To cut cost, the company even resorted to staff retrenchment. Now it cannot relieve any more of its staff as the company only has about 15 of them.

Business Bhutan currently has 24 staff and they have received salaries on time but with the prevailing situation, the future looks bleak.

A reporter for the paper, Dawa T. Wangchuk, said if the current situation persists than it’s only a matter of time before the company shares similar fates.

Bhutan Observer also has been able to pay salaries on time, however, the issue of sustainability hovers large on it.

Reporter, Khandu Tobgay said he was worried that they might share the same fate like others.

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7 comments

  1. Useless government can think of cutting cost from other sources than avoiding advertisement. (use of pool vehicle by dashos for personal use, printing of children projects at office, useless officials using paper more than required, claiming TADA without going for tour, and lots more are some of the areas for idiot people at the decision making level. 

  2. May be Tenzin Lamzang(TL) is feeling the pinch.I think it is better to close the useless news paper that doesn’t have any professionalism in reporting.Actually, PM is too considerate and that is why ,TL is crossing the limit.I as a genuine Bhutanese feel insulted when TL who doesn’t know how to wipe his ass is trying to  challenge PM which somehow is like challenging the TSA WA SUM(king,country and people).

  3. Ligpa (as your names means in kurteop) should have felt shy while going to see whether TL wipes his ass or not.
    There are few ppl like you and they are there unware of situations around. Practice emberrasing truths and you will realize why a lot of advertizements about constructions are sprouting, day before yesterday for Pema Gatshe, Yesterday for sarpang and today Zhemgang offers the same.

    I can see our future and it is made of glass. If that is the number of tenders, imagine some may be going to private pockets the money is then used to buy land which fuels the land prices.
    Dont complain ‘less salary’, rather say high living cost- this is new perspective of living, may be your’s is now obsolate.

  4. We are in the economic crisis (more or less) and the crunch therefore is felt by everybody. There are many unemployed people in Thimphu who simply depend on their relatives or friends for shelter and food.  I have never believed that the newspapers in Bhutan will sustain by simply depending on the government for advertisements. There is only so much a debt ridden government can do. We have about a dozen newspapers. 

    The respective media houses should therefore explore alternative sources of getting advertisements. Their marketing unit should encourage big businesses if not small ones to advertise with their paper. They should approach every potential companies for the same. And it is obvious with any hard-hit companies to downsize the staff and put in cost-cutting measures until they are stable again. This way, media would become more stable and independent both in finance and in their news. 

  5. I agree with Phuntsho, newspapers should go out to private firms for advertisements. But still I admit, sustainability is difficult with less population and less big private companies. Would be good if the NGOs come forward to rescue. 

  6. While I sympathy with Private newspapers, i think government also should cut down cost from wherever possible as we can’t bask in borrowed money.

    The budget cut has even affected government subsidized media which wanted to be independent and free by being self-sufficient.

    Anyway, we can’t keep blaming on government every time. It is time either we find alternate legitimate sources or close down few media houses as for literate small number of people, there are many papers and for illiterate people there are many radios just taking live calls.

  7. Close down few medias and others can collaborate to improve quality of works in informing the people correctly. Or close down all so that we can get back to our ancestors’ time and live in peace and tranquility..

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