The advent of democracy in 2008 led to the creation or strengthening of many democratic institutions and most of these are identified in the form of Constitutional bodies or other autonomous agencies.
However, other less tangible but still important institutions like the monthly ‘Meet-the-Press’ was created.
Meet-the-Press was a creation of the first elected government which was respected and followed by the second elected government despite sharp political differences.
The third government, after toying with the concept for a year from the ‘theme-based monthly press meets’ to asking for ‘interesting questions’ has now effectively done away with it.
It is interesting to note that the closure of such an important avenue for the press to hold the government accountable with no barriers of appointments, availability and inclinations has barely elicited a whimper from the press.
This, more than anything else, might be a true state of the reflection of the state of the press.
The cancellation of the monthly press meet is nothing more than the current government running away from being held accountable by Bhutan’s press core.
It also holds the potential to be a tool of denying access to the more troublesome media or journalists, while granting easier access to the friendlier ones.
Bhutan’s media is in a decline, especially due to a sustainability crisis in the private media. So while the government will not help on that front it should not close the taps of at least a monthly interaction and press conference where most ministers are available.
The excuse that some ministers are not asked questions does not hold as ministers are welcome to supplement answers or even make news worthy announcements if they want.
Ministers outside the monthly press meet are forever in a busy mode and access to them is difficult even for the more seasoned journalists of which there are only a handful left.
It will be much more difficult for the young and inexperienced reporters.
The cancellation of the meet-the-press is not just about ministers but the whole system. Bureaucrats, no matter how senior, are either not empowered to talk or will not talk to play it safe.
In such a case it is the moral responsibility of the elected ministers to talk and share information for the public good. Now, when ministers themselves become inaccessible, then it points to a troubling new trend in our young democracy.
I’ve come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.