Breaking news

A truely upper house

Truly upper house

The National Council has decided that their proceedings will continue to be telecast live on BBS.

I’m hopeful that the National Assembly members will reverse their earlier decision to ban live TV broadcast for most of their sessions.

No middle path for live TV broadcast

Limited use

Limited use

Middlepath (very good nickname) had this to say on my last entry about the National Assembly’s decision to discontinue live TV broadcast for most of its proceedings: “OL and others, please do not abuse the provisions of the Constitution to suit your position on the live telecast. The Constitution says that the proceedings of the NA should be conducted in public but the speaker has the discretion to exclude the press and the pubic from all or any part of the proceedings….(Art 10,15). Public should not be understood as live coverage – it should be understood as open for public observation. In that respect, any one who wishes to observe any session from the public gallery is free to do so…”

This is what Article 10.15 of the Constitution really says: “The proceedings of Parliament shall be conducted in public. However, the Speaker or the Chairperson may exclude the press and the public from all or any part of the proceedings if there is a compelling need to do so in the interests of public order, national security or any other situation, where publicity would seriously prejudice public interest.”

Yes, Middlepath is correct: the Speaker does have “…the discretion to exclude the press and the public from all or any part of the proceedings…” But don’t forget the condition for the Speaker to exercise these powers: “…if there is a compelling need to do so in the interests of public order, national security or any other situation, where publicity would seriously prejudice public interest.”

So the question is would live TV broadcast of the National Assembly proceedings compromise public order and national security? And would it prejudice the public interest? If so, the Speaker can prevent BBS’s live TV broadcast, along with the rest of the media and the public. If not, the Speaker cannot.

By the way, our Honourable Speaker is not responsible for the decision to discontinue the live TV broadcast. It was us, the members of the national assembly. And only two members, both from the opposition, felt that the live TV broadcast should continue. Political analysts will find this odd, because live TV broadcast gives the members of the ruling party disproportionate access to and coverage by the media. So these analysts will ask why then, when the ruling party stands to benefit so much from live TV coverage, are they against it?

With regard to Middlepath’s advice that “public” should not be confused as “live coverage”, he may have a point. But if “public” means “public observation….from the gallery”, it would mean that we are willing to purposely exclude the majority of our population from viewing the proceedings of the Assembly. After all, not many Bhutanese can afford the journey to Thimphu just to observe their parliamentarians. For our people’s sake, for democracy’s sake, let our wider public also participate by viewing the Parliament’s proceedings on BBS’s live telecast.

But there’s still one more issue. Is BBS a part of the press? If so, they may be excluded, along with the rest of the media, from observing all or part of the proceedings, but on condition that their presence undermines the interest of public order or national security. As a matter of fact, TV is part of the press. And live TV coverage is the highest form of news media – viewers get to see and hear events as they really take place, not as others say how they’ve taken place.

Live TV poll

National shame

National shame

Our last poll, on the PCS, has been up for hardly four days. But it generated 51 votes. Almost three-fourths of them were cast against the position classification system. And only 14 voters supported the PCS. Several of the commentators, however, clarified that the PCS is actually a useful system, but that its flaws come from poor implementation. I agree with them.

If the RCSC wants to continue with the PCS, it should implement the system completely. In particular, it should put into practice the dual principles of “right person for the right job” and “equal money for equal value of work” that the PCS is founded upon. Half way measures will not work. And exceptions and the lack of transparency will cause civil servants to lose confidence in the system.

Our new poll is on the National Assembly’s decision to stop live TV broadcasts for most of the session. I’d written about the National Assembly’s decision a few days ago, but several people have asked for a poll.

Earlier this month, I’d also written about the BBS’s new television facilities. In a span of three weeks the BBS inaugurated a spanking new Nu 200 million National TV Centre, and they were told that they can no longer broadcast most of the National Assembly proceedings. What this is, is a national shame.

Reporter’s right

Article 7.3 of our Constitution guarantees that “A Bhutanese shall have the right to information”. But read what Kuensel has to say about one reporter’s experience with Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu. If what Kuensel reports is even partially true, we should be seriously concerned .After all, this is not the first time that our government has yelled at and intimidated journalists.

The DPT promised a “friendly and accessible government” and a “strong and independent media”. We cannot settle for less.

Broadcasting bad news

Broadcasting service

Broadcasting service

During a recent meeting to discuss the agenda for the next session of the National Assembly, MPs decided that live TV broadcast would be allowed only for the opening and closing ceremonies, the PM’s address, and for discussions related to public accounts and anticorruption. Only two MPs, both from the opposition, argued that the proceedings of the National Assembly should continue to be broadcast live on TV.

I cannot understand why anyone would want to discontinue the live broadcast of the National Assembly proceedings. Consider that:

  1. the Constitution requires that “The proceedings of Parliament shall be conducted in public”;
  2. live TV broadcast enhances the accountability of the members of parliament to the people who elected them;
  3. many people, especially outside Thimphu, enjoy following the proceedings in the Parliament and, thereby, participating in the democratic process; and
  4. BBS, which does not charge any fees for broadcasting the proceedings of the National Assembly, has not said that they cannot, for whatever reason, continue this service;

Unlike in many countries, our people actually like to follow the debates inside parliament. This is good. And we should be nurturing this interest in the democratic process. Not suppressing it.

Our honourable MPs would do well to listen to their people. And to the Constitution

New TV centre

An anchor

An anchor

In 1973 the National Youth Association of Bhutan, consisting of fifty to sixty young women and men, decided that Thimphu needed a radio station. So they asked if they could use the government’s radio transmitter on Sundays when the wireless station in Taba normally closed and freed up a 400-watt transmitter. The Royal Government obliged. And Radio NYAB, which later became BBS, was born.

Today, 35 years later, HRH Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck inaugurated BBS’s new TV Centre. The Centre, financed by GOI, cost Nu 200 million and is fitted with state-of-the-art broadcast equipment. This will allow BBS to play an even more meaningful role in democratic Bhutan.

Dasho Paljor J. Dorji, i.e., Dasho Benji, one of the founding members of NYAB, attended today’s ceremony. He was very active and still youthful. And he seemed quite pleased at the outcome of NYAB’s initiative.

Drawing from cartoons

kuensel-cartoon

"Boys, keep your earplugs secured"

I quite enjoyed Kuensel’s cartoon yesterday. Wangchuk, the artist, drew our eleven cabinet ministers huddled together, all of them smug and happy, and each clutching his Nu 2 million Constituency Development Grant.

The caricatures are so accurate that all eleven ministers are immediately recognizable, even at a first quick glance. And readers are already talking about which minister is most faithfully represented in the cartoon. In my opinion, almost all the ministers are drawn well. But five are simply outstanding. They are Lyonpo Nandalal, Lyonpo Minjur, Lyonpo Thakur Singh, and Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering. Yes, even Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering though only half his head is visible.

At the upper-right corner of the cartoon is a single man, clad in orange, and wearing a look that appears to be a cross between disgust and hopelessness. He, I think, is meant to be the NC Chairman.

And at the lower-right corner is a wild man yelling “Unfair! Unconstitutional!” to the ministers. But his raving and ranting is lost to the ministers, because all of them sport ear muffs. This crazy man is meant to be me. But most people I’ve spoken with say that, unlike the ministers, I’m not readily recognizable. Even I agree!

I’m surprised that Wangchuk didn’t come up with a funnier me. I thought that my oversized head, short hair, generous forehead, distinct cheekbones, chinky eyes, horn rimmed spectacles and massive jaws would make for easy caricature.

But, all in all, I really liked Wangchuk’s cartoon. He’s good. And here’s something I heard from his cousin today: Wangchuk was given only two hours to come up with the cartoon. Not bad.

The importance of being heard

being earnest

being earnest

I’ve just learned that our oldest newpaper, Kuensel, declined to publish a letter concerning the recent media awards. The letter was from Tashi P. Wangdi, popularly called “Tosh”, a former editor-in-chief of Bhutan Observer and one of the senior-most journalists in our country. I’ve also learned that the letter was posted on Kuensel’s online discussion forum, but all twelve comments to the post were removed the next day.

I am, therefore, happy to reproduce Tashi P. Wangdi’s letter here.

The right honorable prime minister underscored the importance of principle and moral high ground when it came to media during the media awards. It is ironic that such expectations were raised during a ceremony that was clearly a travesty of morals and principles. To the discerning, if there are any left now, it was evident that the award ceremony was a mockery of ethical media. It was a reflection of the pathetic state of media in Bhutan where a few people engage in cheap tricks to further their ulterior motives. For instance, we were asked to submit our choice of articles/editorials to which we complied. In
the end, our submissions were left out. The reason being that we are not in a newspaper anymore. How is it that a contributor can not only get an award but also be on the jury itself? That is the state of affairs with media in Bhutan. It should justly have been called the media mediocrity awards. That media people can shamelessly receive awards when they know that they are incapable of writing a straight sentence even if their lives depended on it says it all. The modus operandi was to first take out the real heavy weights so that the pseudo writers could have the night to themselves. Well so be it. Keep on playing dirty, as long as the government is there to fund it. And by the way, there was no announcement or quotation call for organizing the event. It had to be the usual suspects. So much for transparency. If it is not there in the media, don’t expect it from other quarters.

Cribbing right

Responding to “Government awards media awards” kikisoso called me a cribber. This is what kikisoso wrote:

The easiest job in the world is to crib. The task at hand is to provide beter and viable alternatives.
OL, let us hear your alternative plans that are more well thought out than just wishful thinking. media people judging themselves will be a bloody melee ….
I think we should learn the lessons of this award and make it more credible next time around – you know, no jury winners (what a balony), better and more broadbased jury selection, awards for ‘body of works’ and not one report …. and what not, By teh way, what was the Dashos at the helm of MOIC doing, eating peanuts … how could they let such grave inadequacies slip by? Too busy arranging te folds of their ghos and colourful kabneys???
Until then , let us refrain from cribbing – the easiest job in the world.

The reason I raise an issue is to draw attention to it. I do so my sharing my opinions on the issue, fully aware that they are just that: an individual’s opinion.

I try not to present solutions. Doing so would take the focus away from the issue. And it would be arrogant. Anyway, I do not have solutions to every problem. And even when I think I have one, that solution may not be the best one.

So the idea is to share my opinion on an issue, even if I’m seen to be “cribbing”. I believe that this allows our readers, including kikisoso, to express their considered opinions on the issue. And to discuss how they would address the issue; how they would solve the problem.

And this is exactly what kikisoso has done. Kikisoso has expressed critical views on an issue (i.e, cribbed) and called for the awards to be made more credible in the future. I find kikisoso’s views useful. And I hope that the media and the government pay attention to them.

As for the “better and viable alternatives” that kikisoso calls for, we fist need to understand the issue. For me the issue is not the credibility of the awards. I’m not cribbing about how the selections were conducted. Or that they may not have been fair.

For me the real issue is preventing government involvement and control in the media, no matter how small the risks may appear to be. So when our government organizes the media awards, and must decide who wins and who doesn’t, I’m naturally concerned. I’m worried that our government could, knowingly or otherwise, influence our otherwise promising media.

Now for a possible “alternative plan” to minimize the risk of government interference in the media. Many countries have press clubs. And I understand that our media are trying to form a journalists association. Such an association would be the most qualified to decide how to conduct future media awards without unhealthy outside influences.

Will that rule out controversy at future awards? No! You can bet that there will be controversy. But remember the issue: government interference in the media. That issue, I can say confidently, would have been addressed.

Investigating rewards?

The First Annual Media Award’s prize for Investigative Report of the Year, the award’s most prestigious category, went to Kuensel’s Phuntsho Choden. This came as no surprise. Phuntsho is good. Well done.

But what did come as a surprise was Tenzing Lamsang. I dare say that Tenzing has contributed significantly to the development of a free media in our country since returning to Bhutan after a stint with the Indian Express, one of India’s biggest and most respected newspapers. From politics and government to the civil service and business, he’s covered a lot of ground. And he’s done his share of investigating. He works hard: I’ve seen him in action. And he’s brave: I’ve read his stories. So, by our standards, his work is indeed very good.

Now what surprised me yesterday was not that he didn’t win. But that he wasn’t even nominated for the investigative report category. In fact, Tenzing Lamsang was not nominated in any of the four categories that he had participated in – his name was not mentioned at all yesterday.

I’m shocked. And I’m disappointed.