SMS tweets

Calling twitterers

About a year ago, I’d announced that I was on Twitter, a social networking site that offers “micro-blogging” by allowing users to post updates that are less than 140 characters long. Twitter originally set a 140-character limit so that “tweets” would be compatible with the SMS messaging.

I’d also described how the Twitter experience could be enhanced if our mobile cellular service providers would tie up with Twitter:

If B-Mobile, say, were to allow Twitter to recognize their network, then users would be able to “tweet” using SMS’s, and “followers” would be able to receive updates as SMS’s. And that would be really handy.

Good news! This is now possible. You can now send and receive tweets by SMS. B-Mobile has tied up with Twitter Inc. to offer twitter SMS services for their customers. To sign up for B-Mobile’s latest service:

  1. Create a twitter account
  2. Login; go to settings>Mobile, and add your mobile number
  3. Send tweets to 40404

Happy tweeting.

Trial by secret jury

The first annual journalism awards drew strong criticism from the media when a judge won the prize for the very category he was adjudicating.

This time, during the second annual journalism awards, the government was careful not to repeat last year’s howler. And they managed. How? By concealing the identity of the jury. The public – and that includes the media – did not, and still does not, know who this year’s judges were. In fact, it appears that the judges themselves do not know who their fellow judges were!

Being cautious is one thing. But being secretive is quite another matter, especially when we’re supposedly honouring our journalists. And when we’re ostensibly celebrating freedom of information.

Stop press!

The second Annual Journalism Awards will take place on 3rd May, coinciding with World Press Day. Good.

But, like last year, the government is organizing the event. Not good.

It is in the media’s interest to decide, without government interference, how to recognize and reward good journalism. And, equally important, who to recognize and reward. So the media should be organizing this important event.

When the government is involved, the awards lose credibility. And the whole process – from defining categories to selecting judges to awarding prizes – will be questioned.

For the sake of a vibrant media, the media should not permit the government to organize the second Annual Journalism Awards. Instead, they should organize the Bhutan Media Foundation to conduct the awards.

If time is the issue, just postpone the event. It does not necessarily have to coincide with World Press Day.

The government, if they so wish, could go ahead, but with other celebrations, to mark World Press Day celebrations.

Anonymous fear

Of the many reasons we may have to comment anonymously, fear of government reprisal is the worst.

Here’s how Kuensel introduced a contractor’s remarks recently:

An owner of an established construction company, who requested anonymity, fearing possible backlash from the government, said that …

The government must dispel such fears. The Constitution, after all, guarantees “…the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression” as a fundamental right.

Headline news!

The latest comment on my post about the prime minister’s office influencing Bhutan Today was by “mediawatch” who challenged:

Mr OL You got to do some explaining here! We are not convinced. TR has given his explanation and made his stand clear. Now Mr OL you need to put a brave face and give your reasons. otherwise we are going to take this as one of your several political gimmicks!

And the comment before that was by “Guest” who pleaded:

I am still pleading with the OL to explain to me how he sees that issue which escapes me totally. My request is genuine.

If Bhutan Today wishes to publish the cabinet’s press releases as their own stories, so be it. I may not agree with them. But I wouldn’t be overly concerned either. After all, we must remember that Bhutan Today was established barely 14 months ago, and that they were the first daily newspaper. So if, in order to meet their daily deadlines, they cut a few corners, I am not about to complain.

I would, however, be concerned if the prime minister’s press officer started influencing Bhutan Today. And very concerned if the PM’s press officer was associated with Bhutan Today when they published the cabinet’s press releases as their own stories. That, unfortunately, is what seems to have happened.

Tenzin Rigden, the PM’s press officer, has admitted in a letter that he “helped” Bhutan Today. And that he had helped “…with story headlines, captions and the design as well”.

Story headlines! The PM’s press officer says he helped Bhutan Today with their story headlines!

It’s no wonder that two journalists – one from Bhutan Observer, the other from Business Bhutan – asked me, on separate occasions, what I thought about Tenzin Rigden editing stories in Bhutan Today.

But for some odd reason, both the papers have decided not to publish what they told me was headline news.

Controlling influence

There’s something strange going on.

I have already expressed my concerns that the prime minister’s office may be influencing the media. But what has recently been happening is worse: one newspaper, Bhutan Today, has started carrying every press release that comes out of the prime minister’s office as their own story, word for word, but with their own byline.

Compare the following stories:

My concern is no longer that the prime minister’s office may be influencing a newspaper. I’m now concerned that they could be controlling Bhutan Today.

There’s something dangerous going on. And I’m writing to BICMA about it.

Digging deeper

Business Bhutan, in their last editorial:

“A country like Bhutan would be happy to be adopted by Tata,” a press release from the government’s media cell quoted the prime minister as saying. Writing about that in his blog and opening up another debate the opposition leader took a dig at the media too.

“And to make certain that Ratan Tata did not miss the Government’s invitation for adoption, all our major newspapers – Kuensel and Bhutan Today and Bhutan Observer and Bhutan Times and Business Bhutan – carried the PM’s tempting offer, word for word,” he wrote.

I did, indeed, take a dig. But, it was not aimed at the media. Instead, it was directed at the prime minister’s office, and, in particular, the ability of an influential press officer to control the media.

Beware

The short entry about the appointment of Tenzin Rigden as the PM’s media advisor generated some long and heated discussions. Very good.

But now what?

First, the media must beware. By Tenzin Rigden’s own admission he has deep connections in the media:

… here are the facts – worked in Kuensel for 10 years; started and ran BT for three years (yes, I still own 10% BT shares if there is any value at all now); the owner of Bhutan Today is my first cousin and its CEO my nephew; the editors of Business Bhutan are friends and former BT employees; the entire news team of The Journalist, as you know, comprises former BT news team (by the way, I have no ownership or control there); and, finally, the MD of Bhutan Observer is one of my closest friends (you can check if you don’t believe.)

Tenzin Rigden is indeed well-connected. He’s also respected, and commands considerable influence in the media. And if he agrees to work as the PM’s media advisor, that’s his business. It’s just not good for the media. So beware.

And second, the Anticorruption Commission must look into how the PM’s office recruited their press officer. Was the position approved legally? And was the recruitment conducted according to established procedure?

The ACC has not yet responded to my request to investigate the recruitment of the four DPT party workers in the PM’s office. But, that won’t prevent me from lodging another complaint.

PRESS RELEASE

The Opposition Leader called on the Minister of Economic Affairs, His Excellency Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, yesterday to express the Opposition Party’s concerns on the Royal Government’s recent policy decisions on tourism. The Opposition Leader reported that, after studying the Royal Government’s Executive Order of 13 November 2009 and consulting a wide range of people, representing a cross section of society, the Opposition Party has concluded that:

On the Royal Government’s decision to “Roll out of the integrated channel, price and supply policy that liberalizes the minimum package price and mandatory package via tour operator requirement…”

  1. Liberalizing the tourist tariff will undermine the positive brand image that our country has carefully cultivated and enjoyed over the last three decades. Most foreigners, including those who have never visited Bhutan, perceive Bhutan as a high end, exclusive destination. They consistently applaud the existing tariff policy as responsible and sustainable measures that are also in line with the principles of Gross National Happiness. Liberalizing the tourist tariff, even if it actually amounts to increased tourist spending, will harm Bhutan’s brand image. [Continue Reading…]

Free media’s other ace?

When Dasho Kinley Dorji was appointed as the MOIC secretary last year, I hinted that that could be both good and not-so-good for our media.

Now, it appears that the government has recruited Tenzin Rigden, apparently on a short-term contract, as their “media advisor”.  Tenzin Rigden worked in Kuensel, owned Bhutan Media Services, and started and owns Bhutan Times. He’s commands considerable influence in the media circle.

So, like Dasho Kinley, Tenzin’s appointment to the Prime Minister’s Office can be good for the media. Or, it could be dangerous. We’ll know soon enough.

But for now, what we need to know is this: who is paying for Tenzin Rigden? If he is being paid by the government, his position should have been advertised and the recruitment carried out in accordance with the RCSC’s guidelines. It wasn’t.