From what conclusions were drawn among media personnel, both foreign and local, during the ‘Round table session on media and its impact on policy’ at the recently concluded Mountain Echoes, Media in Bhutan has fared well, and its horizon is not all that bleak.
Award-winning British writer and Historian from London, Patrick French said Bhutan’s print media as he observed in 2001 was much better than that of other developing countries in the region such as Nepal.
“The power of media could be much greater than that of the government in policy making,” he said. He cited an example of the United Kingdom where no politician makes any important decision without the support of a prominent media house.
Indian investigative journalist, Arun Sinha, one of the speakers at the session doubted if media really influenced policy making.
“Most of the time it’s very disappointing, it doesn’t,” he said. According to him Indian media failed to look at the government’s process of policy making and that the influence of media on policy making is ‘negligible’.
“The media got bulk of its advertisement revenue and subsidies, everything from the state and the media had to keep the state in good humor for its own existence,” he said, making an example of reforms brought about by the Indian government after 1991 and the situation of media before that.
The situation now has changed, he said, since bulks of advertisement revenue came from corporations and business sectors. “In my opinion, “corporations, state and public” are the three main factors which influence policy making,” he said.
However, in Bhutan’s case, News Editor of Drukpa Magazine, Mitra Raj, said “though Bhutanese media is young, it is on the right track”. Editor of Bhutan Observer, Needrup Zangpo shared his paper’s experience on successful engagement of rural people in policy
The CEO of The Bhutanese, Tenzing Lamsang, a member of the panel highlighted on the impact Bhutanese media made before and after 2008.
“The Bhutanese media have had huge influence on laws, policies, corruption and the likes despite certain drawbacks as the media is quite young,” Tenzing Lamsang said. “Being a small society, while it is easy to make an impact there are a lot of sensitivities involved as well.”
He cited the various examples of, reports on the lottery scams, mining, procurement, construction and other irregularities which led to better check and balances within organizations or ministries and had direct effects on certain policies.
Kuensel’s chief reporter, Sonam Pelden said her paper continued reporting on certain issues to bring in positive changes despite being accused by the government of favoring the opposition party.
An eternal bone of contention which lay in the folds of the government’s ad policy and the circulation audit, came to fore when a member of the audience questioned government’s invisible but clear and present control on media’s independence, through advertisement.
Tenzing Lamsang to whom the question was directed, said owing to a weak private sector, all media houses rely on government for financial stability.
The Bhutanese’s CEO said of late it is beginning to look like media houses are being controlled by the government through a coordinated move by some politicians and business houses linked to them using government advertisement.
The Secretary for the Information and Communications Ministry, Dasho Kinley Dorji said the whole concept of advertisement guideline is, the government is spending money for the public, and media shouldn’t ask but demand for the advertisement justifying its
reach to intended target
Opposition Leader (OL), Tshering Tobgay, who was also on the panel said even if any policy doesn’t change, the fact that media makes policy makers think is enough impact and whether they are doing something or not is almost secondary as long as the government is paying close attention.
“In that sense, I believe that media had a good impact on policy,” he said.
Another indicator he said was the government’s media strategy hinting at Lyonchen’s development of his media office. Other indicators he cited was the monthly Meet the Press session, circulation audit of print media, and advertisement guidelines among others.
On the flipside, the OL observed the lack of cooperation among media houses as a deterrent toward media’s impact on authorities and policy makers. He highlighted media houses avoiding a particular topic to report-on which had initially been covered by another media house as breaking news.
The OL also said he often quoted the media in parliamentary sessions to support his own statement despite arguments from other members who support the media when it benefits the concerned party.
“So we use the media, we misuse the media too in the parliament when we are making policies, discussing policies and when we are enacting legislation,” he said.
Print media in Bhutan first started in the mid 1960s with Kuensel as a fortnightly news bulletin and the first private newspaper came into existence in early 2006 With Bhutan Times. The Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) was established in 1973 as a radio service.
Today, there are a total of 11 newspapers of which three are Dzongkha and five FM radio stations in the country. BBS, which is state owned is the only TV station as of now.
Mountain Echoes, an initiative of the India- Bhutan Foundation in association with Siyahi, is a literary and cultural festival.