By Sonam Deki
A media to function effectively and timely vastly depend on the information at their disposal. In Bhutan, government plays vital role in shaping the news and its content. Most stories reported in media, government has large stake and making of it.
The in-depth news are reported depending on the degree of information access given to the journalists. More often, lack of information disclosure state’s well intended policies are misunderstood by the people which in turns also deprive people’s participation in the easily available interactive technological platforms.
The willingness of government officials is choked while seeking information and gagged to distance a reporter. As this report was being compiled, the reporter awaits information on the subject from high and mid level bureaucrats in the government.
Tenzin Lamsang, the Chief Editor of private newspaper-The Bhutanese said, “Bureaucrats are the most challenging group to obtain information from, followed by autonomous bodies. Politicians are the easiest source of information to obtain “.
“Giving people accurate information is crucial, yet they are not cooperating. Moreover, we are being moved from one table to another while conducting interviews”, said one of the reporters.
Most of the reporter says that politician is more media friendly than bureaucrats and autonomous agencies.
Dorji Wangdi, the opposition leader said, “If I were to give my readiness to speak with the media a score, I would give 10 out of 10”. He explains his top scores as, “In a democracy, we base our decisions on the available data because informed people can make wise decisions, we are always willing to speak with the media”.
“I believe that the media doesn’t talk to us enough and would like to see them talk to politicians more. I am willing to speak with the media since those in the media must work around the clock, even if it is during the off-hour “, the opposition leader added.
Aside from politicians and autonomous bodies, it is exceedingly challenging to obtain information from bureaucrats since they claim they are prohibited by their code of conduct, according to Kelzang Choden, reporter at Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS).
Bhutan Civil Service Rule (BCSR) clause 3.3.16 states that a civil servant shall refrain from making any statement of fact or opinion in the media (broadcast, print and online) or in any document. However, under the code of conduct and ethics, number 3 states that “Maintain the confidentiality of official information and decisions” and nos. 5 Ensure transparency, efficiency, effectiveness, professionalism, meritocracy and accountability, these conflicting statement is interpreted with leverage of first one and later, with apparently sinecure position.
With this in mind, every department or ministry has a media focal point with little or no idea on the subject matter.
While seeking information, reporters remarked, “We constantly try to contact the media focal person of any department that is linked, the person who does not have an iota of idea and often redirects to his superiors and back to the media focal person and the cycle begins.”
However, Tashi Wangmo, the Secretary Ministry of Labour and Human Resources said, “For past 13 months I have been with this Ministry, not a single reporter has reached out to me directly to seek any form of information about the MoLHR. Instead, their direct point of contact has always been my Minister”.
She further added, “The fact that we have identified media focal person of each Department to ensure that they can adequately respond to the queries of media about their respective Departments. So, there is no issue of them not knowing their subject so long the reporters reach out to them”.
One of the media focal persons who asked to remain anonymous said “We are Bachelor of Arts (BA) graduates with no prior experience in the media, but we make every effort to complete the task at hand. To guarantee that the information is accurate and helpful, we frequently refer the person or questions to the concerned officer or office “.
In addition, two foresters were forced to retire on April 4, 2022, due to media interviews. This had a detrimental effects on bureaucrats and it has made them fearful of speaking with the media.
Remarked Kelzang Choden “Getting information from authorities was already challenging, but the situation with the forced retirement of two foresters have made things even more challenging. I feel the existing approach of Thromde about sending the written inquiry is not media friendly”.
One of the private newspaper reporters said, “Some people despite with information, they are so reluctant to divulge it that we have to postpone the news article publication or drop the story idea owing to the time bound nature of the story”.
Reporters find it more challenging to obtain information from autonomous bodies, particularly from Thimphu Thromde, after bureaucrats. The questions for Thimphu Thromde must be provided in advance, which will affect the spontaneity of responses. We lack the platform to ask for additional clarification on the answer that has been given. We must accept their response, regardless of whether it is warranted or in response to the question, expressed most of the reporters who have pursuit news article involving Thimphu Thromde.
Gembo, the editor for Gyachi Sarshog, said, “I also disagree with Thimphu Thromde’s existing information collection procedure. If things stay the same, I tell my junior reporters to stop interviwing them, since the news is not being gathered for our own benefit; rather, it is compiled to provide readers with the full narrative “.
In the age of information explosion, it’s imperative for media to function with the highest ethics and conduct by providing precise, balanced and timely information to the every citizen in the country through apt medium for larger reach. And to achieve this, bureaucrats, elected representatives, corporates, public and private agencies and everyone at the capacity of concern citizen must shoulder this responsibility and eliminate Mis-dis-information and fear mongering agendas but for the unity and developed Bhutan.