As Bhutanese journalists marked yet another World Press Freedom day, it is important for us to recognize the number one challenge facing the press in Bhutan.
It is not self censorship, it is not lack of access to information, it is not a small society syndrome nor is it about training, though all of these are issues in their own right.
The root problem and cause of all ailments in the media sector is sustainability of media houses, and especially so in the private sector.
It is due to sustainability that both the quantity, and more importantly, the quality of news stories and coverage have seen a perceptible decline.
Senior journalists and also newbies leaving, most of the times, has to do with the issue of sustainability as they move on to greener pastures.
Even on the issue of training many private media outlets do not even have enough people to be trained, and even those that are trained soon move out due to the high attrition rate.
The state owned media houses do not face such financial issues, but they are also being impacted indirectly through the lack of effective competition from the private media.
We generally tend to associate the media industry with just journalists but there are far more numbers of other people like designers, marketing officers, administration staff, drivers etc., who are also badly hit.
Apart from members of the media industry the other victims of this sustainability threat is Bhutanese democracy and ordinary citizens.
This is because a rich variety of press and views is an essential component of democracy and an informed citizenry.
If nothing is done then a few years down the line the only visible media outlets will be government owned ones. While journalists in these outlets currently work independently an ‘intolerant government,’ in the future, can use ownership to undermine these outlets.
The current government must be appreciated for taking some important steps to address this issue through some nominal subsidy to the private media. However, this can only be a stop gap measure and other longer term measures need to be looked at and seriously considered if Bhutan wants to have a vibrant and pluralistic media scene.
Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.