Bhutanese society is increasingly getting use to the idea of having members from the media present at important discussions. Often we hear the complaint that not enough coverage is being accorded to concerns and discussions from districts (MDA, 2010) and understandably so, news media is a very important actor in a democracy. At a time when more want coverage, to want less is definitely a notable change.
Reading news from Kuensel on the news media being left out from discussions during this year’s annual education conference appears to be the case and a cause for concern for those who believe in transparency as a critical element of good governance and the freedom of press. The shift from the news media being allowed to be present during discussions to this drastic measure of not allowing them to be present calls for a deeper level of thinking.
The reasons cited for such an action was earlier experiences of the ministry with the news media of misinterpreting, misquoting and covering the conferences rather negatively (as perceived by the ministry). Another reason cited in the article was also that the presence of news media making discussions difficult. I read it as creating discomfort in discussing issues openly. Looking at these concerns in isolation perhaps one may agree that until the news media learn to do a more professional job, no chances be taken. But, as is the case in society, nothing is as simple as that. We will make mistakes and we will need to learn from them.
The Government initiated ‘meet-the-press’ platform and the Parliament conducts its proceedings openly, all advocating transparency. Interestingly the ministry of education decides to close doors at this year’s annual conference. Is there a question of disagreement on transparency within the Government? Citing these reasons alone cannot justify being refused presence, not unless the discussions concern national security and other similar concerns. Besides claims of similar experiences have also been made by members of the Government and also Parliament but it continues as it has. Transparency allows for questioning, criticizing and engaging which will allow us to learn and move forward. As stated the news media would be given access to information after the closing of the conference. True, but would all of the contributions from participants be captured? Closing out the news media from discussions is both symbolic and interpretive of extreme apprehensions, but will it be productive? Is this the best way to move forward? Will others follow suit with similar excuses?
I believe we must promote transparency to the extend it benefits the public. Closing doors to the news media that have always been included for annual conference discussions does not bode well with our desire to promote deepening of democracy and more specifically transparency.
By Sangay Khandu
The writer is the National Council MP from Gasa