The friday question and answer session in Parliament saw a Opposition MP saying that some media personnel went to the Opposition party with a couple of voice recordings of the PM, alleging ‘harassment.’
First off, the media must learn to fight its own battles. If some truly unpleasant incident has occurred then the best thing is to write about it.
Here, Editors must support their reporters if the incident merits a response and if they are in the right. There is also the courts in more serious cases.
It only makes sense to approach the ruling MPs, opposition MPs and the NC members when some legislation is afoot that can impact the media or media freedom or there is something equally grave.
Secondly, the opposition party, while in power, did not exactly have a stellar record in terms of press freedom.
I personally have not experienced any ‘harassment’ from the current government so far.
Wry comments or defensive statements cannot constitute ‘harassment’ in my book.
Real ‘harassment’ is having an official ‘ad-ban’ against your paper via an official and confidential circular (2012), a former PM pretty much calling you and your paper anti-national (by-name) at a NGOP gathering of graduates among other public venues, and fanatic party supporters (no prizes for guessing) unleashing online death threats, defamation and racist comments against you in response to factual investigative stories.
This, at the time, was all in the context of zilch support from so many organizations that had already mushroomed by then in the name of supporting ‘free press.’
It was a tough and lonely battle at the time, but my paper and team did not buckle, and we stood up against all odds.
However, coming to today, the real issue which the current government is guilty of is not lifting a finger to help a raging sustainability crisis in the private media -despite being made fully aware of the crisis. They have made it worse by going ahead full steam with an e-procurement system that ends up denying advertisement revenue to the media and especially the private media.
The media is not against e-procurement, but why reduce transparency by not sharing the same tender notification in the media.
The result is that in the eight months of the government -the two last Dzongkha private papers have folded and other private papers are on the way.
To be fair, the crisis started with a series of government austerity measures since 2010 and 6 papers, 3 radio stations and 2 newsmagazines have shut since, and both DPT and PDP are also culpable, but this government, far from helping, is making it much worse via e-procurement.
At this rate ‘Democratic Bhutan’, in the long-run, is headed for a situation which could only have the state owned BBS and Kuensel.
This would not be good for media plurality, which is one of the key factors for a healthy media environment.
Also, while BBS and Kuensel have good reach and a competent and professional editorial team, the management in any government owned company is accountable to a government appointed board which in turn is accountable to the government.
This undeniable power link can be subtly or openly misused incase any government, allergic to criticism, comes to power.
By Tenzing Lamsang
The writer is the Editor of The paper and the views are his own