The Prime Minister, in response to a question in the monthly ‘meet-the¬press’ session, said that the government will intervene if media houses close, one after another, and if all of them are in trouble.
He, however, did not specify on the kind of intervention needed, or when the government would intervene.
The Prime Minister said, “If the media is in deep trouble, we need to intervene. If the Financial Institutions are in trouble, we need to do something, we cannot cop out. We, however, cannot have excessive intervention in the realm of media.”
The Prime Minister said, “There will come a time when the government will need to intervene. If all media houses are starting to fall, one after another, something would need to be done.”
He said the question is when the intervention should come, or to what extent it should be.
The Prime Minister’s comments are in the context of the media, especially the private print media, facing huge sustainability challenges.
According to several media houses, both private and state-owned, the media’s financial situation which was already bad before is considerably worse now after the new government’s austerity measure drive.
Earlier, the finance ministry had asked government agencies and corporations to recommend measures for their own organizations to cut costs.
It has been observed by media houses that, in most cases, the agencies and corporations to meet the austerity targets have all drastically slashed advertisement budgets. This is visible in a drastic drop in advertisements in all media outlets.
While some have cut down the budgets and are advertising with only state-owned media outlets, others have started using their websites to advertise while many are learning how to minimize advertisement sizes.
According to media houses, advertisements, in general, have dropped in all media houses, but the drop has been the most severe in private media houses as part of a gradual process starting in 2010.
The DPT government, through a finance ministry circular in 2010 instructed government agencies to advertize with only one or two outlets, and named Kuensel as one of the outlets.
This notification lead to not only a drop in advertisements in private media houses, but also its shift towards state-owned media houses like Kuensel and BBS.
Subsequent austerity measures in 2011 and 2012 made matters worse as the government further cut down on advertisement. In 2012, a confidential MoIC circular issued by the former government used advertisement as a weapon to punish critical and free media like this paper by banning government advertisements to it.
The treatment of the free and critical press by the then government, in fact, became a major election topic with all parties raising the issue.
Recently, the Cabinet issued a circular to all government agencies, overturning the confidential and illegal circular of the previous government naming The Bhutanese, and instead ordered a more equitable advertisement policy to the media that included this paper, and not only one or two media outlets as practiced by the DPT government through its circulars.
The Prime Minister pointed out that the government could also help in the development of the media by providing a level playing field.
He said that for reducing expenditures in government agencies and corporations, it would not do to only cut advertisements to the media, but cuts should also be made to other budget heads like entertainment, etc.
He said, “We have not asked any agency to cut any expenditure that would interfere with delivery.”
He said that in the case of corporations, it was their job to deliver targets and they may need some advertisements to deliver their targets, but in some cases, advertisements could be cut.
The Prime Minister also clarified that the Cabinet had not issued any specific notification to government agencies to cut advertisement.