Setting the record straight

At a time when the need of the hour is national and societal unity in the fight against COVID-19, the last thing the people want to see is two National Newspapers having a go at each other.

However, what is also equally true is that the most important asset for a newspaper is its credibility, and when another paper, without any basis, attacks it unfairly then any self-respecting paper has no option but to respond and set the record straight.

Last weekend, The Bhutanese published an investigative story highlighting systemic lapses by various government authorities that led to the second COVID-19 outbreak. The story was based on official interviews (including one with a senior TAG member), facts and evidence.

The public largely appreciated the story and the government really had nothing much to say given the facts of the story.

While the story had many aspects, one aspect was how the Shabha bus driver became a victim of the systemic lapses and official ineptitude and tested positive. However, the paper was careful not to identify him as ‘patient zero’ or the ‘index patient’ and ran qualifications to that effect saying nothing is ascertained. It also carried his version and gave him a say.

Instead of focusing on the main issues of substance raised by The Bhutanese in its lengthy piece, Kuensel cherry picked and misrepresented the information and intent of the article by The Bhutanese.

Kuensel’s Editorial, which represents the paper’s position, launched a misleading and scathing attack on The Bhutanese article saying that it had pinned the blame on a single individual with its news article using the term ‘patient zero.’

The Bhutanese story and editorial last week blamed systemic lapses for the spread of the virus and not the Shabha driver.

Kuensel’s Editorial said such information, is a bigger problem than the pandemic itself.

The Bhutanese fails to understand how information that actually exposes lapses of the authorities and the system in the public interest and shows the Shabha driver as one of victims is ‘a bigger problem than the pandemic itself.’

It further says, “Fear and panic can’t be helped in a situation such as the nation is faced with today but wilful misinformation and the kind of disregard that seems to be accepted, even by the government, is dangerous.”

The Bhutanese is again unable to understand how a factual story based on official sources and evidence that clearly points out the visible lapses in containing the virus is “wilful misinformation.”

The real ‘danger’ in fact is not in pointing out such lapses, but it lies in national newspapers disregarding it or covering it up for authorities when it comes to the fore.

If there is misinformation here, then it is by Kuensel. It misrepresented verified source based information of The Bhutanese from its investigative article,and then turned around and accused the paper of misinformation.

The large number of people who read the story and Editorial by The Bhutanese understood them well and applauded the paper for pointing out the issues, but we are yet to see anybody come to the same conclusions that Kuensel did.

In this day and age, readers are smart and we do not need a middle-man in between us and our readers to give a cherry picked and twisted interpretation of our articles.

Despite the best efforts of the Kuensel article and Editorial it did not make much of an impact as the readers understood what The Bhutanese wanted to convey. This was clear from their comments.

This paper has a lot of respect for the Health Minister who has largely been a picture of calm and competence in these troubled times.

However, she did not cover herself with glory in this particular episode where instead of answering for the lapses she chose to partake in Kuensel’s misguided campaign, when it was her own senior TAG member and another official who shared technical information, including on the Shabha driver, with the paper. The paper before publishing had even run the information by the minister once but she had not refuted it.

Lyonpo, in what can only be seen as an attempt to take the spotlight away from the lapses, tried to play up the plight of the Shabha driver and made a false claim on national television that people are calling the Shabha driver to harass him. When the paper fact checked this with the driver later, he denied such calls. 

The issues pointed out by The Bhutanese shows failure from many agencies, including the MoH. It is up to Kuensel to decide on the credibility of using the opinion of a minister, who is on the defensive, to dismiss an entire investigative story done by a rival paper.

The sincerity of Kuensel’s attempted take down of The Bhutanese article can been seen from the fact that after misrepresenting and lambasting The Bhutanese article, the daily paper did not conduct a follow up investigation of what went wrong that led to the second outbreak.

The Bhutanese has done a follow up investigative story in this issue following the first one with the sole aim of bringing out the truth in the public interest.

Just a Quote: News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising – Quote by Lord Northcliff

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