Media wars

Mass media in Bhutan has enjoyed exceptional growth recently. During the last four years, five new newspapers – all privately owned – started operations in quick succession.  Bhutan Times, Bhutan Observer, Bhutan Today, Business Bhutan and The Journalist hit the newsstands on 30 April 2006, 2 June 2006, 30 October 2008, 26 September 2009 and 20 December 2009 respectively. Till then Kuensel, which started as a government bulletin in 1967, was our country’s only newspaper.

Our airwaves have also seen rapid growth. Beginning with Kuzoo FM, which started operations in September 2006, three other private radio stations (Radio Valley, Centennial Radio and Sherubtse FM) have joined BBS Radio, which enjoyed a monopoly since its inception in 1973.

Similarly, there’s been an unprecedented growth in other media forms. Books, magazines, websites, blogs, cinema, music, cable TV, and overall connectivity have all expanded tremendously offering consumers of information a wide array of choices.

So I’m happy to hear about the Government’s plans to hire professionals to audit the circulation figures and reach of the media. Such an exercise could produce valuable information of our news industry, and benefit every one – producers, advertisers, consumers and regulators of the media. And, that information could be used to strengthen our media.

However, I’m concerned that the “circulation audit” will be used to formulate an “advertisement policy” that would excessively favour government advertisements for media agencies having a bigger reach. Under normal circumstances that would be okay. In fact, under normal circumstances, that would have been required, as articulated by the Secretary of MOIC:

He said that the government had limited budget for advertising and could not afford to give the same advertisement in all the media. “Government organisations must plan advertisements and announcements through the year. We have six newspapers and the government can’t afford to give the same advertisement to all papers,” he said, adding that government organisations must behave like professional advertisers, to ensure that the message reaches the audience.

But, both Kuensel and BBS, the nation’s two biggest media firms, had a head start, and both of them benefited immensely from huge subsidies from the Government and donor agencies. In fact, BBS continues to be heavily subsidized by the Government. So, both Kuensel and BBS are way ahead of their respective competition.

The Government should indeed consider the circulation and reach of the media when formulating their “advertisement policy”. But, it should also consider the amount of subsidies that have already been given to Kuensel and BBS.

Otherwise we risk undoing all the good work of the last four years.

 

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  1. It will be really very important to “audit” the circulation figure and of course, the subsidy component should be removed to have equal footings. And yes, the “advertisement policy” should be reviewed and existing system of giving same advertisement to all the media houses seems to be very “expensive”.
    As stated by the MOIC Secretary, advertisement should not be a “kidu” to sustain media. If that becomes the trend, then most of the graduates will form a group and start another paper as income through advertisement will be guaranteed from the Government. Consequently, we will have so many media houses for a small population of less than seven hundred thousand. On the other hand, it will be very expensive for the government and of course the quality and standard will suffer. By auditing the circulation, we will also come to know about the quality of their product.

  2. Mr. Viewer says:

    Dear O.L la,
    Thank you for your infotainment that you educate us with. This might sound off the line in context to this issue but just as an opinion I lay it down.
    When we talk about freedom of press and speech in a democratic country now, how would it be if the government agencies some times leave it up to the public to choose then framing too much guidelines and rules like the BICMA and so. It might be that it is just starting to take shape but we really think that now the government should some times give independency and acknowledge the private articulations some times rather then even getting involved in the media awards and so…
    and on the other side the funny part of rather making sealing and bench marks to the upper hand of salaries in the private sector would be better if our ruling government tries to protect the lower levels and bring rise then the upper hand…
    We hope that the ruling party is doing their best with our beloved parliamentarians wise in taking decisions then just pulling on with their benefits and creating inflation in to the market.
    Would be great if the media sector is some times given the say to decide, rather then dozing in the mercy of the politicians: like the program on BBS about the pay and benefit rise of the MPs… would be great if the discussion is done earlier enough then the decision is taken and then just wasting time bringing it to the public…
    “what is done, can not be undone”
    lets make the media platform a better place to raise then raise with the limitations set before its dusk.

  3. Mr. Viewer, I believe that the types of programs of BBS could be left up to BBS to decide. But as BBS is receiving subsidy from the Government it also as a social mandate of transmitting programs relevant to the general public and cannot go much into commercial area. I think BBS subsidy was considered as there were no other media channels before but now since we have others we should stop the subsidy and let BBS operate on its own. I have seen the annual report of BBS and I think it is not in a good financial shape, probably for lack of independence or social mandate. But on the point of giving total independence, no regulation, we need to be little careful about it. BICMA is required but to what extent it should regulate and control is a question. I think it should regulate to promote ethics and professionalism and also issues that impact national interest. I think culture is also important. Without BICMA, there is high chance of media going wild.

  4. speculationman says:

    Lyonpo, it is a pertinent issue.
    The so called circulation audit for the newspapers has to be talked about. There are several reasons.
    One, it has to be made clear how the audit would be done. The details of the process, which parameters will be evaluated, how it will be evaluated, have to be made clear. How will the audit ensure that the result would not be unfair or biased to any paper has to be ascertained which can only be done by making the whole process of evaluation clear.
    Two, the private media are in a quandary whether the audit is required. More specifically, whether it is the right time for an audit? It has only been three years since the first private paper started. And within the last four months we saw two new newspapers. So how is it going to ensure that the new entrants do not lose out to the old players.
    This point particularly brings us to the oldest paper, Kuensel, who is today arguably the most comfortable paper in the market in terms of income. It is apparent as it has been declaring dividends since 2003 while private papers have been almost experiencing bankruptcy. Moreover, Kuensel was set up by the government. It took Kuensel more than four decades to stand on its own after it was established in 1967. So I wonder how fair it would be to audit the private newspapers just after three years. It even brings us to a theory as to whether the initiators of the audit aim to deliberately let Kuensel win the battle even before it has begun. Period, and one more.
    Third, it is clear that more than 80% of the ads in the market today come from the government. And as ads is the main and only source of income for the papers, it also means that the government is the only source of income for the papers. Here comes the logical rationale that the government can control/manipulate the media only through ads. While editorial freedom is more or less ensured, it does not really guarantee complete freedom because freedom in politics is always subjective. So I wonder whether the need for the audit, cited to be a basis for an ad policy, is a ploy to show the stick to the media.
    For me, the private media arguably has done a good job and I feel that the growth of the media sector in Bhutan has to be attributed to it, at least in part. Therefore, I wanted to say that the circulation audit asks more questions than offering answers.

  5. the system of compassion or kidu has evolved from the time in memorable and it must continue. but we should not be carried out by it. kidu is especially granted for those people who who really are in need of but not for those who want it.
    media is very important in any system of government, its importance is felt in democratic system, where people have to be informed and heard because they are integral part of it in ensuring equal participation of decision making process. i am happy to see many private newspaper floating in our country. it shows that our people are well informed and educated on government and day to day activities in and around the country. we required it and must be there to inform our people.
    so i am not worried about the “auditing”. let the ministry of information and communication hired experts from usa or india… we want media that inform people in every direction about east, west, north and south.not about thimphu…. we know that thimphu is capital city destroyed due to unplanned and systematic failure.
    kuensel and bbs run by government have nothing special to the privately owned medias… only difference is that its run by government.
    private media can do well and it should because it has authority to inform people in better ways—- no restriction.

    if private media can capture people and gain confidence in its quality and news… naturally many things would come…
    private medias have to do just different
    …………… don;t worry if you maintain quality… money shall pour from every direction in your newsroom……….. quality………quality of your news….

    i am very
    however it doesn’t meant that they have to provide

  6. Yes, govt should ‘plan’ to hire professionals from outside BUT not to audit the ‘circulation’ straight away. Like OL and many out here mentioned, its not practical nor fair for the private media. There is huge difference in terms of money, manpower, asset …in everything (BBS & Kuensel VS Pvt Media).

    Instead, govt should hire professionals to conduct discussions among mass media to formulate a system for setting up a ‘circulation audit’.

    It will be a big waste of time and money for the govt. if they ‘audit the circulation’ right now as none of the private media will have even the basic information and criteria in place.

  7. Phobdu Wangdi says:

    This is a great piece. I am really impressed from this piece. journalism has also florished in exile in Nepal by our Bhutanese fellow mates. see their sites:
    http://www.apfanews.com
    http://www.bhutannewsservice.com
    http://www.radiobhutanonline.com
    http://www.tpmishra.com
    http://www.bhutanusa.com
    and some more……..

    phobdu@druknet.bt

  8. Let us not be fooled around by people like Phobdu Wangdi who has given links to some of the anti-bhutan websites. All these websites talk about is against everything that is good about Bhutan. I am hopeful and hope that such anti-Bhutan feelings are not nurtured.

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