The interface between news media versus social media in Bhutan was discussed at length during South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) – Bhutan Chapter Seminar, conducted amidst Bhutanese media practitioners, lawmakers, and social media users in Thimphu yesterday.
With the emergence of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter which has transformed the way the Bhutanese use the internet in order to interact, throw their opinions and debate, the seminar created a forum of discussion on the issues related to it.
During the course of discussions, each panelist along with the audience from various media houses voiced their own opinions on news media and social media in Bhutan.
One of panelists, a Member of Parliament (MP) of the National Council (NC) Sangay Khandu talked about social media and said, “When we talk about social media, we are talking about demographic as well, the population we have and access to mobile phone which have internet connectivity, and as accessibility becomes cheaper we are bound to see more people engaging in social media.”
He added saying pertinent issues are brought up through social media.
Social media has, perhaps, become a platform to publicize what a media professional thinks is something of public interest.
He said, “Social media actually fill the gaps like the kind of culture setting we have and how earlier into our democratic process we are and issues of VVIPs, culture, corruptions, which the mainstream media are handicapped to deal at the moment, perhaps, of regulatory pressure or business interests. This is where why social media has been very successful.”
While another panelist, former CEO of a newspaper, Tashi Dorji felt social media is actually a gossip media where gossip has always been sources of news.
He added saying that social media is a platform for news maker and said social media has always challenged news media.
When it comes to regulation of social media, he said is not possible but it’s about creating awareness.
“Social media is what we consider the marginal other and news media as the mainstream, but this has changed over time and now without knowing social media is a mainstream and newspapers, TV and radio are pushed to margins,” said one of the panelists, Aby Tharakan.
So the issue now, he said is news practitioner having to work hard and to separate the weeds and education is the key to social media and journalist should start engaging in social media.
The issue of anonymity was also discussed where a panelist, former Zimpon Wongma Nima Tshering felt that sometimes anonymity is not necessarily bad and looking at the shift of social media from 2008 to 2013, anonymity has increased.
The need for such anonymity he stated was for two reasons, a natural tendency to hide behind a veil when raising sensitive issues, and the other one reason is the close- knit society.
Another panelist, Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB) president Passang Dorji said, “As much as social media is a reality, it is pervasive.
He explained on unbridled social media as being unorganized and an uncontrolled social media.
He pointed out the difference between social media and mainstream saying, “When it comes to mainstream, it talks about certain structure, accountability and there is a mechanism where people do reporting, accountability through editorial policy and government regulations, but when it comes to social media people are left free. That is why they differ when it comes to structure.”
At the same time he said this comes with an issue of legitimacy and said, “Some of the things people write and engage in social media are not as true as we would like to think they are, but when it comes to mainstream we cannot just write what just social media engages in”.
“When the mainstream news media is weak, the distinction might blur because when the people do not have the alternative sources of information, we might land up relying on social media,” he said.
He also added, “When people don’t have access to it (news and information) so people might start using social media as credible legitimate sources. Then if that information is not as legitimate as they are supposed to be, we might end up into problem.”
Some participants called for the need of code of conduct, education and media literacy.