Bhutan’s first democratically elected Prime Minister- the DPT President is angry, and many of his supporters and some neutral observers would say he has the reason to be so.
The DPT President, for some time now, has been subject to a barrage of unverified and malicious articles on various social media sites. Some of the articles are in very poor taste as well.
In some cases, the defamatory articles in the social media are in violation of the DPT President’s Fundamental Rights, under Article 7 Section 19 of the Constitution that says, ‘A person shall not be subjected to…unlawful attacks on the person’s honour and reputation.’
The former Prime Minister has every right, as a citizen of this country, to legally protect his name and honour against the untrue and defamatory posts in the social media.
The social media posts, especially on Bhutanomics against the former Prime Minister, are getting to be excessive. And far from damaging the reputation of the former Prime Minister, it has even got the hardcore DPT critics expressing sympathy for the former Prime Minister and his family, and ordinary citizens are beginning to question the various factual aspects of some of the posts.
However, the DPT President’s tagging of both the anonymous social media and the news media in the same bracket while addressing the issue is both factually incorrect and patently unfair.
While it is true that some irresponsible and extreme elements in the social media are stirring up regionalism, however, the news media has been doing the exact opposite.
Editorials, articles, and even opinion pieces in the news media have all appealed, in one way or the other, for national unity and integrity. To date, there has been no article in the news media that can be accused of generating regionalism.
This leads one to question the intent of the DPT in accusing the news media of fomenting regionalism, especially when it is under the scrutiny of the same media for corruption and other failings.
Bhutan’s first democratic Prime Minister, whose party’s main claim is to have ensured a smooth transition to democracy and strengthened democracy, has made some very undemocratic threats against the Press.
These threats cannot be ignored or dismissed since they come from a Prime Ministerial candidate of the next government in 2013. It also does not help that the same party’s manifesto has a promise to address the ‘misguided’ media.
The DPT President, mincing no words during the kick off campaign in Thimphu, told a packed hall of supporters and news reporters present- that he will ‘not leave’ the social media and critical elements in the media. He has also accused them of engaging in ‘anti-national activity’ and ruining the image of Bhutan by criticizing the government.
The former Prime Minister’s statements against the Press are in gross violation of both Bhutanese Democracy and the Constitution, which ensures the basic Fundamental Rights of citizens like Free Speech, Free Press, and Right to Information.
Given that the statement is being made a good 30 days before the July 13 Polls, is also an attempt to silence or intimidate media houses into not covering reports on any critical issues in the coming days.
Free and fair elections are not only incumbent on technical aspects, but it is also equally important to ensure that there is no environment of intimidation of key stakeholders, one of which is media houses covering the event.
The former Prime Minister also made an untrue claim that criticism of all sorts has been tolerated by DPT. The party, compared to other parties, has been the most reactive to media criticism – responding ferociously and also filing numerous complaints with several authorities.
One important point to remember is that the DPT is not just a victim, but is equally an aggressor in the social media like others. It’s evident that DPT supporters and members are all over the social media launching vicious attacks against other parties, politicians, other social media users, and even journalists doing their job. The DPT President, as evidenced from his public speeches, has himself on occasions not been truthful to the nation, and has also made defamatory statements against individuals.
Some politicians, short of naming names, have made some defamatory insinuations trying to link the news media with some anonymous social media sites. This is an unethical and irresponsible attempt to tear down the hard built and hard won reputations of important media institutions and professionals.
The news media has done much stronger articles than the half-baked ones posted in social media sites that, as stated above, backfire more than creating any impact.
The difference is that in the news media, the journalists are ethically bound to do their research, present facts with evidence, and are accountable for any news report. This is demonstrated in stories on issues like Gyelpozhing, Bhutan Lottery case, MoH case, Education City, Trowa Theatre, etc.
Factual stories done by professional journalists around the world have, time and again demonstrated, the power of truth- even against powerful people and institutions in the land.
The DPT, which is engaged in the heat of electoral battle, cannot use the excuse of some anonymous social media posters to come crashing down on the institution of Free Press, and start threatening the Fundamental Rights of citizens.
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”