The Bhutanese with today’s issue completes one year from the date of its launch on 21st February, 2012.
This was also the first Bhutanese paper to publicly publish its editorial policy so that people could hold it accountable to it. The paper also published the names of its owners.
In the first editorial the paper pledged itself to further the boundaries of Bhutanese journalism through investigative journalism and journalism that would make a difference in people’s lives.
Keeping this pledge this paper was at the forefront of some major investigative stories.
It started with a land scam issue concerning the DPT Vice President Chang Ugyen who had been involved in grabbing around 10 acres of government land in Thimphu in his past capacity as a local government leader.
The paper while following up on the Chang Ugyen story accessed a confidential high level committee report, and based on it came out with a list of names of various other influential people who had grabbed land in Thimphu in a three part series.
Though the papers stories on land grabs in Thimphu named a cross section of influential people cutting across all lines the ruling government accused the paper of targeting the DPT party.
Holding true to its editorial policy of being an apolitical paper, the paper in the month of March ran a series of critical stories on the supporters of the opposition party focusing on mining and the Phobjika case.
The paper in the same month highlighted a story on how some ministers were misusing their drivers after some drivers approached the paper complaining of being overused.
In the month of April unknown to the paper then, the MoIC issued a circular marked confidential and it said, “We would like to inform your Department not to entertain any advertisement, announcement, notification, circular, etc to the media “The Bhutanese” till the ministry issues further directives. This is as per the instruction conveyed by the Honorable Minister, MoIC on 02/04/2012.”
Around the same time The Bhutanese which was the highest revenue earner among the private papers dropped to the bottom as all 10 ministries withdrew government advertisement at once.
The paper did suspect something was wrong as some marketing officers were told by some officials that they were asked not to give advertisements. The evidence finally came by when a whistle blower, troubled with the government’s decision, shared the MoIC Circular with the paper.
By then it was clear to the paper that the government had launched an all out financial war on the paper. In what is a first in Bhutan, the 12 month old Bhutanese paper has had to face a relentless financial assault for the last 10 months from a government which has decided not to do business with the paper and make it an example for other media houses that may criticize the government.
Pressure was even applied by some influential people on the family members of some staff members to quit the paper.
There was also an attempt by some big industrial houses that supported the government to launch a rival paper to counter every critical story of The Bhutanese.
Coincidentally in the past few months the paper has received queries on its functioning and content from the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority, all of which was answered to their legal satisfaction. These queries were not sent to other papers indicating that specific complaints or concerns had been made to BICMA against the paper.
The paper had three stark choices. To continue but not criticize the government, to fold up the paper and not take any more losses or to continue upholding serious and critical journalism.
The Bhutanese in the interest of freedom of press and freedom of speech decided to continue on its path despite government hostility and the obvious difficulties.
However, given the new challenge the paper had to completely give up on its plans of going daily, reduce the size and pages of the paper and carry out other cost cutting measures.
Carrying on with its brand of investigative journalism The Bhutanese did stories like the Denchi land compensation scam, City Bus procurement irregularity, Unconstitutional Land Kidu Bill, Gyelpozhing, Bhutan Lottery, Illegal Forestry, Education City, etc.
Demonstrating its commitment to upholding transparency in general this paper strongly supported the enactment of the Right to Information Act which would have empowered ordinary Bhutanese with the power of information.
The paper has also been at the forefront of economic issues doing the first story highlighting the credit crunch and also breaking the news on the government’s Rupee Taskforce Report which not only blamed ordinary citizens but also the RMA and the government for the rupee shortage.
The paper in a detailed survey found that a large number of its readers were youth. The paper has also focused on youth issues like youth in politics, employment, drug addiction, and etc.
This paper has also been a strong advocate of press freedom. Though there are different editorial positions on some issues, The Bhutanese, supported the reporters of The Journalist paper, who were unfairly defamed by the Education Ministry. In the end BICMA cleared the reporters of alleged wrong doing. Even though Bhutannomics a satirical website had carried defamatory content on a senior figure of this paper, this paper was the first to question the alleged blocking of this website for over a month.
Despite coming under attack from the government this paper has maintained a balanced and neutral content. An internal survey by the paper has shown that in the last one year the vast majority of this papers stories have been neutral highlighting various developmental activities of the government. The survey has also shown that the Opposition has only had minimal coverage of their views in the paper while the majority of the coverage has been given to the government and its activities. Even the few critical and investigative stories have been based on irrefutable facts and evidences.
Well after the MoIC circular had been issued, the current government was caught in a very vulnerable position when the international media reported that Bhutan and China would soon establish diplomatic relations based on alleged comments made when Lyonchhen and the Chinese premier met in Rio.
The story particularly got played up in the Indian media and official circles and the rumblings threatened Bhutan’s national interest given that India is Bhutan’s largest developmental partner. The Bhutanese was the only Bhutanese newspaper to run a denial of the diplomatic relations statements based on information from the PM’s office which was followed up by the paper running an editorial on the issue explaining that such a statement was misquoted. Many Indian media outlets ultimately quoted The Bhutanese setting the record straight and avoiding the issue snowballing into a major diplomatic issue for Bhutan.
The Bhutanese in the last one year has maintained a high level of journalism despite trying circumstances and challenges and will continue to do so in the future.
Finally, the launch date of the The Bhutanese on 21st February 2012 coincided with the birthday of His Majesty the King. This paper had chosen this occasion not only because His Majesty is the King, but also because His Majesty in his many actions has shown himself to be a selfless, honest, sincere, humane, and dedicated leader, qualities which are rare among the Bhutanese leaders of today. In today’s scenario of scams, ruthless party politics, abuse of political power, factionalism, and violation of laws; His Majesty the King through his many actions has stood out as a beacon of hope for the long term future of Bhutan.
We thank our readers for their support in the last one year and we join the nation in wishing His Majesty the King a very happy birthday.