Making a habit of mistreating Journalists

In the middle of the 2013 campaign season, a senior and well respected foreign reporter and his crew from a major international Television news network had to patiently wait for hours to secure a pre-agreed interview with a senior political candidate.

When the candidate finally came out the senior journalist and his entire crew were scolded like school children by the candidate for no apparent reason even before the first question was asked.

In another instance a huge contingent of international journalists who had come to cover a major national event were left even without drinking water under a sweltering sun while they had to watch local officials enjoying delicacies and other drinks.

This treatment is not only reserved for international journalists, but Bhutanese journalists have to bear it on almost a daily basis, often for just doing their jobs.

It is still not uncommon for journalists to be shouted at and scolded by even the most junior officials for just asking for information, which in most cases should anyhow be made public.

Sometimes by poor coordination and usually by institutional design, Bhutanese journalists are frequently subject to humiliations over the pettiest things by various agencies and officials.

A few years ago an entire contingent of Bhutanese journalists were invited for lunch in the National Assembly by one official only to be publicly and loudly denied entry by another official in front of a large gathering.

The situation in the NA has infact been getting progressively worse since 2013 under the current Speaker, both in terms of access to MPs and also in the shunting out of journalists trying to do their jobs.

In the National Council there was one public instance of journalists (again invited to have lunch) having to line up with sweepers and support staff only to be denied lunch for the absence of  ‘coupons’ by having the caterers grab the plates out of their hands. This was though the journalists had accreditation and security passes.  The caterer cheekily told the journalists to eat any leftovers, if there were any, as a junior NC official instead of helping got aggressive with the journalists.

There are also many other innumerable episodes of Bhutanese journalists being subject to wanton abuse and humiliation by other government agencies and officials often for just doing their jobs or for being at a particular public event that requires coverage.

The issue here is not about Journalists not being given importance; in fact far from it. It is about how journalists are not even accorded basic human decency and courtesy only because they don’t fall within a certain government hierarchy and protocol.

This speaks volumes more about the true state of the fourth estate then all the lip service the press usually gets.

However, despite all of the above it is a blessing in disguise as it teaches journalists a valuable lesson of how the system really thinks of and treats ordinary people that come from outside the hierarchical government structure.

It is also a good reminder on the need for looking behind the smooth and polished surfaces to see the rot within.

At the same time it is a truly strange phenomenon to see as world governments and agencies move towards being more media savvy and friendly, Bhutan seems to be taking a constant step backwards on this front.

On another level, there is also a deeper realization of the wisdom of ours Kings in bringing about democracy and giving power to the people instead of leaving it to a group of people who think no end of themselves and each other while treating ordinary people like dirt.

Civility, courtesy and decency are basic lessons that are usually taught to young children.

It is unfortunate when much more senior people have to be reminded of these basic values.

 

Civility is not simply about manners.

Jim Leach

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