The annual journalism conference was brief and precise. But there cannot be a more appropriate theme than the one they chose: “Forging ahead together”.
How do we move ahead together for the good of journalism? How do we forge to make journalism a respected and relevant profession? How do we forge together to move ahead? These are questions that we need to ask ourselves, as media itself is in question these days.
Like the President of the Journalist Association of Bhutan said in his opening remarks, it is time to for the media to reflect on its roles and responsibilities. Journalism is losing its mojo. While authorities and decision makers fear journalist in the corridors of power in many governments, journalists at home are ordered, commanded what to write, or not to write, and dictated.
Why is this happening? There are several reasons. Some are at home, in the newsrooms. Journalists, especially new recruits, are confused whom they are answerable to. Is it the owner who pays them the monthly salary? Or is it to the readers or audience?
The media industry is in a dire straits condition. It is not a lucrative business as many thought and, it is fighting a survival battle. When the owners are crippled with sustainability issues, journalism is affected. If reporters are not paid, they will lose interest in the profession. If owners cannot afford to send the reporter to the field where the news is happening or to give voice to the people, the responsibility is compromised.
Owners are not investing in journalism. It is very simple, if you don’t pay reporters or photographers, they will not go after the story. Today, most papers are just covering press releases and often relying on press hand-outs.
For some reasons that are hardly spoken, there are not many professionals in the news industry. Trained and experienced journalists have quit. Those who stay back are confused.
Although we take pride in journalists not being threatened or killed or kidnapped like in many countries, including in the region, many say that there are indirect threats. Quite often, it is their parents, relatives and even friends who advice reporters to take it easy. These feelings stems from a reporter going after a story, which is misunderstood as going after a person or a party or an organisation or a business. Where is that originating from?
Our biggest challenge apart from sustainability is being a close-knit society. Every “negative” story hits a relative, a friend or an in-law. This discourages those who show keen interest in the profession. Then there is the issue of sensitivity. In Bhutan everything is sensitive. That’s how many truths are swept under the carpet.
If these truths were to be told, both journalists and media managers need to be brave or rich to bear the consequences. Are we? The responsibilities of the media managers are not only to make money or please the authorities. They have to support the profession, which is crucial for the development and survival of democracy.
Those in the profession should work together.
It is a tactics to kill good journalism by restricting revenue, in the form of advertisement. If all the newspapers, all the radio stations practice journalism of the highest quality or even half of that, readers will follow them. And ideally, revenue follows good journalism. If not we are handing over our powers to the rich and the powerful.