Beware of mad dogs

Reporters Without Borders is a nongovernmental organization that fights for freedom of the press. Each year, Reporters Without Borders publishes the Press Freedom Index, an assessment and ranking of press freedom around the world.

In 2003, Reporters Without Borders ranked Bhutan’s press freedom record at a miserable 157 of the 166 countries they studied.

But since then, Bhutan’s record has improved consistently. In 2006 Bhutan was ranked 98 out of 168 countries. And for 2010, Bhutan is ranked 64 of 178 countries.

64th in the Press Freedom Index is not bad. We must protect our good record. And naturally, we must try to improve it.

So I was happy to learn about the Bhutan Media Dialogue that was organized last week “… to take an in-depth look at the concept of the Fourth Estate and what it means for Bhutan.” However, I was concerned that one of the two “veteran Asian journalist-scholars” guiding the discussions was from Singapore.

Why? Because Singapore’s press freedom ranking for 2010 was a dismal 136.

So I wasn’t surprised to read the following article, by Bhutan Today, cautioning against the ills of an “aggressive media”:

There’s no doubt that we can learn a lot from Singapore – hard work, discipline, organization and entrepreneurship are a few examples. And we must learn from their success. But given their record, they couldn’t tell us how to develop a vibrant media.

Incidentally, the other “veteran Asian journalist-scholar” was from Thailand, a country that was ranked 153 in the 2010 Press Freedom Index.

Students’ Digest

Good to digest

Finally! A magazine just for students! And about time too. After all, one in every three Bhutanese is a student. The magazine, Students’ Digest, a quarterly, was launched last month, befittingly on Children’s Day, the 11th of November.

Students’ Digest is a rich compilation of educational material for students, and their teachers and parents. From news, views and interviews to scholarships, jobs and study tips the magazine offers knowledge, entertainment and counsel to its readers.

I wish the Students’ Digest team well. Their success will be our students’ success.

Leaking information

Mega-leaks by WikiLeaks: First it was the Afghan War Diary. Then it was the Iraq War Logs. Now it is Secret US Embassy Cables.

These and the thousands of other otherwise unpublished documents “leaked” by WikiLeaks have generated strong reactions both for and against the award wining, new media nonprofit organization.

What do you think? Does WikiLeaks promote transparency and accountability in government? Or does WikiLeaks threaten international relations and global security?

Please share your views. And take the poll.

Walk out

I’ve walked out of the National Assembly hall on many occasions. Mostly, they have been to visit the men’s room. And occasionally, to retrieve documents or to consult experts on issues being discussed in the hall.

But I’ve never walked out in protest.

So I was surprised when, six months ago, Kuensel took note when I left my seat:

The opposition leader left the hall before the end of the budget report discussions, which hurried to a close, once the chapter on the rationalisation of taxes was done with.

And I was surprised when, ten days ago, Kuensel again drew attention to my temporary departure from the hall:

After the debate, when the house geared to proceed with the bill amendment maintaining the previous clause, the opposition leader was seen to leave the house, followed by the opposition member Damchoe [sic] Dorji.

Yes, I did leave the hall on both occasions. But, no, they were not in protest – I was not being disrespectful or disobedient. And it was wrong for Kuensel to imply that I was.

I expect to walk out of the National Assembly hall on many more occasions. They’ll mostly be to visit the men’s room, to retrieve documents or to consult experts. But in the unlikely event that I ever walk out in protest, I’ll do so deliberately – I’ll make it obvious. That, after all, would be the whole idea.

Live TV

The sixth session of the Parliament has concluded. And again, during this session too, the National Assembly did not allow its proceedings to be broadcast on live TV.

But this time, the Assembly allowed the Question Hour discussions to be carried on live TV.  That’s a slight improvement. And I welcome it. And hope that, from the next session on, BBS will once again be allowed to cover the National Assembly’s entire proceedings on live TV.

On a related note, BBS’s own efforts at covering the Parliament’s discussions seem to have regressed. Till the last session, BBS would, after their evening news, organize live panel discussions on important issues that were being debated in the Parliament. This time I didn’t see any panel discussions on topical issues emerging from the Parliament. They seem to have stopped.

This is unfortunate. The live panel discussions were well attended, especially by viewers throughout the country. And the discussions were widely considered to be among BBS’s more popular segments.

So as we conclude the sixth session, I offer a quiet prayer: that henceforth the National Assembly allows its entire proceedings to be broadcast on live TV; and that BBS revives their live panel discussions.

Blasting the media

A cartoon dominated the front cover of today’s The Journalist.

The caricature features a hooded hangman lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite that will blow up four newspapers. Kuensel and Observer are shown applauding the hangman’s efforts, while the public watches the dangerous proceedings in complete indifference.

So who is this hooded hangman?

Funding BBS

BBS News

The Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy and the BBS recently got together last week to organize a seminar on the nature and role of public service broadcasting in Bhutan.

The two-day seminar, which was meant to discuss public service media and broadcasting in general, generated a good deal of attention on the way BBS is organized and run. Such scrutiny is good for BBS’s health. In fact, it is vital, especially if the Kingdom’s oldest and main broadcaster is to achieve its vision of becoming “A trusted public service broadcaster of international standing …”

The BBS was delinked from the government and established as an autonomous corporation by royal decree on 1st October 1992. But after the introduction of parliamentary democracy, it’s role, vis-à-vis the government, has come under question.

So the seminar was timely. And its main recommendation – to include public service broadcasting in the BICMA Act, or to even develop separate legislation for it – should be taken seriously.

But what’s more important is to clarify where BBS stands. Is it a public service broadcaster? Or is it a government broadcaster?

The government has openly criticized the BBS’s coverage of its activities. The National Assembly has discussed the BBS’s mandate and powers on several occasions. And the speaker of the National Assembly has asserted that BBS must obey the government as they are owned and financed by it.

We should not be surprised. BBS is financed by the government. So the government and the ruling party may feel that they must question how the organization is run. The incentive to do so will come from BBS’s considerable influence – a media impact study has determined that BBS radio has the biggest reach, followed by BBS TV.

The BBS can never be independent as long as it has to depend on the government for funds each and every year. And its vision to become a “trusted public service broadcaster” will remain just that – a vision.

If BBS is to become a true public service broadcaster, it must be able to function with editorial and organizational independence, free from political and commercial interference. To achieve that, the first and most important step, is to create an adequate and sustainable source of financing, one that does not depend on the mood of politicians or businesses.

What BBS needs is an independent fund for public service broadcasting. And the government can easily establish one. The prime minister has recently said that the lottery business is “unethical and not in conformity with the GNH values” and that members of the cabinet “aren’t in support of this government or Bhutan being involved in the business of lottery.”

The government should not stop its lottery business. Instead, it should clean it up. And, use the proceeds from the business for an important cause: to make BBS “A trusted public service broadcaster of international standing …”

Spelling Bee!

Do you like quizzes? If so, here’s one. But it’s open only to Kuensel journalists.

Study the clip below from yesterday’s Kuensel. Then choose the correct answer.

How does the opposition leader, Tshering Tobgay, spell his name?

  1. Tshering Tobgye
  2. Tshering Tobgay
  3. Tshering Tobgyel

Bonus points for spelling the other opposition party member’s name correctly.

Lottery scam

An excellent piece of investigative journalism, about Bhutan’s role in the Indian lottery scam, by Business Bhutan’s Tenzing Lamsang, that screams for answers.

BBS and the government

Enough protection?

Last week, Parliament authorized the government to review the mandate of BBS. I’m against the government meddling in BBS’s affairs. But our lawmakers feel that the country’s only TV station is underperforming. And that the government should intervene to give BBS vision and the means to achieve that vision.

So what’s the first move that the government makes? It directs BBS to go 24/7. And it does so without consulting anyone in BBS. Our national broadcaster struggles to generate sufficient content for the five hours it goes on air each day, and the government, unilaterally, directs BBS to broadcast round the clock. This directive does not augur well for television in Bhutan.

BBS is essentially a non-commercial public service broadcaster. So the state should subsidize its operations. How much? That, the government should decide.

But the government should not interfere in how BBS is run. That is the job of the Managing Director and the Board of Directors – ultimately they are the ones responsible for ensuring that BBS is able to inform, educate and entertain our people, and for protecting its editorial independence.

And that, precisely, was the reason why BBS was delinked from the government in the first place. The Royal Kasho establishing BBS as an autonomous corporation was issued way back on 18 September 1992. But its message is timeless. In fact, it’s even more relevant today. So, to remind ourselves, I’m reproducing the translation of that Royal Kasho: [Continue Reading…]