Playing the game

My post entitled “Playing the media” drew many responses. Two of them were from Tenzing Lamsang.

In his first response, Tenzing argues that “sources” play an important role in revealing crucial information, often by taking great risks. He writes that:

Investigative Journalism internationally has to rely on confidential sources and so is the case in Bhutan. In fact a good journalists job is to cultivate the right sources in the right places.

We should salute these brave sources whose courage and conscience have helped to clean up society to some extent and also spread transparency.

The very lack of a RTI Act, Whistleblowers Protection Act, in-transparent system, cultural shyness to the media and other factors make even mundane information be released as leaks.

I agree with Tenzing Lamsang. I agree with him one hundred per cent.

But there seems to be a slight confusion. My post did not question the use of sources. In fact, like Tenzing, I too applaud whistleblowers who expose wrongdoings, especially by those in positions of authority. And, like him, I too believe that it’s about time we enacted legislation to enable the right to information.

Three days later, Tenzing Lamsang left a second response, one that appears angry and in which he threatens to take me to court. Here’s the second response in its entirety:

First the Opposition leader should stop spinning facts his way. This is not the political arena where you can throw wild accusations at the government but here you are dealing with the reputation of a media professional and an individual and what you have posted again borders on defamation.

When you made the original post on the pay hike I had no problem expect with the fact that you questioned whether the information had been ‘stolen’. I was unhappy and called you in 2008 to ask you by what you meant by the particular phrase ‘Or are they being stolen’. You very clearly told me that you meant that weather it was stolen by some official and then given to me implying that an official had stolen it which anyhow was an incorrect assessment. As you now claim I did not make any justifications to you as in the first place I did nothing illegal and secondly I owe no explanation to you.

I was simply trying to handle in a civil way what others would consider defamation. I accept that you have not accused me of stealing documents but by even hinting that the information was stolen without any evidence it is irresponsible and dangerous especially coming from the opposition leader of the country.

However the damage of your post in 2008 was done and since then some of my detractors have assumed your post to be a fact and used it to spread this fiction of stolen documents.

Perhaps the right way to handle it would have been to resolve the issue in court at that time like you recently did with the government.

Stealing is what a common thief or criminal does and it is the basest and most vile act for which there are adequate provisions in the penal code.

You have once again raised questions over my entire body of work for whatever reasons by hinting that the pay hike information was stolen. Lazy armchair journalism is something I do not do. I make it a point to meet everyone and get information and follow the basic rules of ethical journalism combined with backbreaking hard work.

A whimsical and defamatory comment like yours backed without any truth or evidence will not do the credibility of the opposition leader any good.

Truth does not spread easily but whisper a lie and it spreads like wildfire doing its damage. Based on this lie a paper has done a cartoon which is in poor taste, devoid of reality, petty and foolish. In Bhutan as I have said before the biggest challenge at times is not the government but people including those in my own fraternity who use the pen at times like a butcher’s knife.

Next time around I will not take kindly to such accusations and logical steps will be taken accordingly.

I don’t know why he got so upset. All I can say is that “Playing the media” was not intended to be an attack on him. Nor was it an attack on his sources. What I found questionable – even unethical – was that the government was purposely leaking information with the intention of gauging public opinion.

The post was titled Playing the media for a good reason. “Playing” the media – get it? Here’s the excerpt from Tenzing Lamsang’s column that I quoted in that post:

Another similar incident occurred in early 2009 when another source shared information with me that the finance ministry was planning car taxes of up to 50%. The story was done. However, the ministry immediately issued a circular saying that there is no proposal for a car tax. The source later told me that there was in fact a proposal which MoF withdrew immediately at the time due to the negative reaction. The source confessed to me that the information was deliberately leaked to me so that public reaction could be gauged.

I reiterate: “Playing the media” was not about Tenzing Lamsang. I covered that quite clearly in “Investigating rewards?”

“Playing the media” was about certain questionable practices of the government. That’s why my post ends with:

The government should not play games with the media and, through it, with the public at large. Such games are silly at the best of times. But more often than naught, like the rumors of resignation that spread following the Supreme Court’s verdict, they can get dangerous.

Enough said. Let’s address the real issue. I’d like to hear from you: is it okay for the government to deliberately mislead the media by disguising and leaking proposals that are still under consideration as policies ready for implementation in order to gauge public reaction?

 

 

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Comments

  1. we are very much regret for voting such a tricky Govt.

  2. Dear Ol,
    i think Tensing Lamsang is working in Businessbhutan. Right?????????????

    Media role in a democracy
    i. Inform
    ii. Educate
    iii. Entertain
    Tensing Lamsang is doing media role in a ethical
    way and Ol is also doing great role….

    I dont comment when someone do quite well

  3. When it comes to democracy and politics, nothing different can be expected whoever comes to power. Because I understand politics as:
    P = People’s
    O = opinion
    L = later
    I = itentionally
    T = turned
    I = into
    C = criticism
    S = systems

  4. my question is, even if it is true, what is wrong in government gauging the public reaction? That way, it rather helps to avoid implementing wrong policies. Policies, once implemented, will have immediate effect and it is difficult to roll back….so, to me, it is not a big issue that deserves OL’s attention.

    Whatever, Tenzing Lamsang is doing a fantastic job and i have my appreciation to him!

  5. I just read the OL post titled “Playing the Media” once and i understood it like OL accusing the government of playing with the media deliberating leaking certain information which are suppose to be confidential until such time a concrete decision has been made by the government of the Cabinet. I so no line in it where OL was trying to accuse Tenzin Lamsang of stealing papers.
    May be Tenzin Lamsang read the article with some pre conceived ideas.

    thanks

  6. guardian says:

    Much ado about nothing, OL simply needs to get his priorities right. When there are so many cases of corruption in the country, OL has not even raised his vice once. I suspect that somehow if he does that, he will find more PDP supporters who are behind all these corrupt practices.

    1. Ministry of Health.

  7. I second Guardian above

  8. there are legitimate ways to find out public opinion about certain policies such as surveys and research which is also sometimes called evidence based policy and if the Govt. is smart enough there are also ways to ask these questions without making policies such as potential tax revisions obvious.
    Gauging opinions through leaking confidential information is not only unethical but also very unprofessional.
    and shows lack of trust and respect for the general. Imagine, if the government cannot trust the people , how will they expect us to trust them.
    we are a small society and as we always claim right now we have so many things happening the right way for us.
    a great monarch, political stability, pristine environment and most of all a development philosophy that in principle puts the people of Bhutan at the center of the development process.
    there was a pledge made by the present govt. to not only uphold all these values but also to bring the country forward.

    Allowing themselves to be taken to the court and losing the case , threatening to then resign, not accepting a huge mistake is not what we voted the govt. to do. Oh wait.. and then saying that there should be liberal interpretation of the constitution and still call it the mother of all laws…
    while imprisoning a monk and a few others ( who don’t have background) for ‘smuggling’ of tobacco worth barely 150 ngultrum because “its the law… ” I even heard some influential people said that there has to be some scape goats…

    and then there’s a brave/investigative
    reporter who has some source leaking information… ???
    Simply great… I think at this rate.. we can easily achieve GNH NOT…

  9. Didn’t find OLs article attacking or defaming lamzang.

    Obviously MISS Tenzin Lamzang doesnt like others mentioning or talking about him while him writing about others is the job he chose. He must have written hundreds of articles about hundreds of other people, and some of them could be wrong, and here he is saying he will charge OL with defamation, what an irony. Hes doing a great job nevertheless! Keep it up.

  10. 1) Khandu, Tenzin Lamsang is Mr. and not Miss.

    2) I also fully agree with what Guardian said.

  11. Ten more journalists like Lamsang and the corruption will disappear from our Bhutanese soil.

    Ten more politicians like the OL and our country will truly become the Switzerland of Asia (not south asia).

    Despite the risks of dire personal consequences and adverse situations, both of you are doing a great job for our country. Please keep it up. More than anything else, Bhutan needs people like you. This is the need of the time!!!

  12. Sonam penjor says:

    lamsang, please do not mistake ol. As Tangba said, u guys are genuinely required in our so called democracy. We rather as individuals want people like u two to show us the wrong happenings in the system. please do not mistake our ol. He is being very worthy opposition in our democracy.

    cheers

  13. Ten OL and switzerland…haha…nice joke!

  14. Is it right for the government to leak classified information to the media for it’s own interests? if this is the question that the OL is asking, then the answer is an obvious no.
    It is possible that the government can use the media for its own purposes, to spread rumours and garner sympathy or support. Example being the so called resignation that OL cites, although I dont think it garnered any sympathy for the government, and it wasn’t ‘leaked’. The papers said that the prime minister had said that in some of the MTR meetings. Not exactly a rumour then.
    However, nothing can be done to stop people from making up stories and the media from printing/broadcasting it. To ensure minimum damage, we need to improve the quality of the media personnel, and also strengthen media literacy, so that the public know when they are being ‘played’.
    I agree that this can happen. Although we are told in the newsroom that we have to be ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’ i know that many times, papers publish press releases word for word, and a lot of the times the press releases are blatant in their praise of an individual or their work.
    The example that the OL cited is what i dont agree with, however. For one, I dont think any public policy is classified information at any point of time. I think the government would come up with much better legislation and policies if open discussion is carried in public forum out right from the beginning. this would also save a lot of time and money, because legistation that emerges from public discussion will not need to be scrapped at the last minute because of overwhelming public disagreement.
    As long as the journalist does a thorough job and ensures that whatever information is being published is correct, i dont see why it should be wrong. In fact the government should stop treating policy documents as ‘classified’ involve everyone through the media in the discussion right from the beginning.

  15. I support Sonam Penjor. Keep it up both of u.

  16. guardian says:

    Dear OL, in the past, I have been very critical of your views on many issues, but if you are willing to take the fight against corruption to the government, I will back you all the way. Right now the most serious problem which is leading to poor governance is corruption which seems to have pervaded every section of Bhutanese society. Sadly, though, it was the government which kept on stating that corruption in Bhutan was at manageable levels, only to find out now, that it is a tough nut to crack.

    Even the ACC it seems is not able to cope with the scale of corruption in the country.

  17. OL, we really appreciate your stance on corruption but could you explain your stand on the following issues where u have kept unusually quite

    1. Ministry of Health Corruption case which carried on from lyonpo sangay and lyonpo jigmes time

    2. Bjemina mining case

    3. Samtse mine scam where wife of accuesd was PDP canidate

    4. Stone quarries scam by damchen and singye in wangdue and punakha

    5. Phobjika yab case

    6. expressway case involving singye construction

    7. paro-chunzom road construction case including singye construction and nima construction

    8. namseling stone quarry

    etc etc

  18. Cases of such deliberate leaks may have to be proved, if there is a way. And then proper judgement could be given (and by proper judiciary system). Media’s role is to authenticate thier sources and motives – roles of editors is to see impact and thier consequent non follow up. Media at this stages, after they have been ‘misled’ is to follow up on the stories and stop bitching

  19. Much ado about nothing! The apso is just flexing his media muscles. Threats of the courtroom? A joke at best, if such a case could even see the light of one, Mr. Lamsang would find the mountain of his reporting inaccuracies crashing over him!

  20. These days Opposition leader is gaining popularity!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. Perhaps the right way to handle it would have been to resolve the issue in court at that time like you recently did with the government.

  22. Dogchok-gi-dokchog says:

    In this art “Playing the Game” OL is the captain. No one can play the media, courts and public sentiments better. I guess this is a neccessary skill and one that demands recognition and appreciation. Tashi Delek! As for TL, he is the best we have and we hope he will grow even more in this demanding profession.

  23. take deep breath OL and Tenzing Lamsang……..guys do ur job

  24. @zangpa: The DPT government has blatantly violated our Constitution. They still go around defying the Supreme Court verdict and telling the innocent rustics in the country that they have never violated any laws. A dozen of bans are enforced in the country undermining freedom and liberty of our people in a democracy. DPT government is definitely turning Bhutan into a North Korea of South Asia. I have no doubt that you are very happy with it.

  25. Dear Guardian, Ugyen, and Druk,

    Like you, I am also seriously concerned about the growing corruption in our country. Corruption is the biggest enemy of any country’s development and progress. It can destroy us all — together with everything that our beloved Kings and our forefathers have worked so hard to create. But just ONE OL cannot fight and win this battle. It will take a movement involving all the concerned citizens and civil society organizations to stop corruption from spreading its ugly wings.

    As we all know, OL cannot blindly raise his voice and charge people and organizations without solid proof and evidences. In case of the Tax issue, he had the Constitution to support him. But in this case, so many people and organizations are involved that it can backfire and put any individual or institution to great risk. We also know that people involved in corruption has a wide network and influence.

    So, in order to protect our nation’s promising future, what we need is a strong grassroots movement and some inspiring leaders to come forward and lead the fight.

    So will our leaders come forward to lead and if they do, will our concerned citizens and CSOs come forward in large numbers to support such leaders????

  26. Oh yes, I also love Tenzing Lamzang. He is the best.

  27. tangba
    what u want me to do? join u to defame and discredit dpt government in every possible ways?…..yes, government did/does both good and bad but u always see from the negative prism of glass but i see from both sides…we can point out when gov is going wrong but also give due credit when it deserves…Even OL does that way…..i am sure u will never be happy coz u are full of hatred and vengeance! hatred breeds hatred only!…

  28. Truth_is_Buddha says:

    Playing the media negatively must be avoided by any Governments, as it tantamounts to illegitimate way of feeling the public pulse, and avoiding taking responsibility. Use of Media in a fair way – such as press releases or internet polls through govt websites, should be encouraged. It is okay to be open, honest and ask for pulic opinions publicly. It is not necessary for the Govt to be all knowing all the time. One must remember that the democratic govt is the people’s govt, so being fair to people’s opinion should be part of governance culture. I salute everyone, including OL and journalists who bring out such issues up for discussions. This gives us opportunity to become mature, confront problems jointly and stand up for our common resolve.

  29. Mr/Mrs Druk our OL is not an ACC or Supreme Court to deal with every personal case and OL,s duty is to check and balance of Ruling Govt or Institution bodies for general public,s benefit or to protect (Sathrimchemo) Constitution.So mr. druk if you really son of Pelden Drukpa why you are only maintaining names of PDP related People cases only. Is it Daanam dha drangduen.

  30. Straight drive says:

    Honourable OL,
    I feel that government can purposely leak the information and watch the public reactions. After all, ultimate aim of the government is to serve the people and make them happy. So, before a controversial plan is officially implemented, it is good to have people’s reaction. I suppose opposition also can do similar tricks in future.
    But the journalists should keep their home work too. They should be able to sort out information which need to be reported immediately and whcih can be reported only after verifications.
    The reporting done above was not wrong for the government but no proper research done by the journalist

  31. guardian says:

    Karma1 and Makala.

    Ol does not need to do anything, there is enough evidence as per the ACC reports that there is rampant corruption. OL just needs to tell the DPT government that he is worried about corruption and ask the ruling government to do something about it.

    The fact that he is not even blogging about it very worrying indeed. Don’t you agree with me!

  32. i agree 100% with guardian….i hope OL will not justify by saying it is not there in the constitution!

  33. well ol is defending his pdp supporters who are all big business houses engagaed in various corrupt activities from illegal mining, fronting and etc. he is their paid mouth piece. some say he opposed the car tax because zimdra would be hit the hardest.

  34. guardian says:

    druk,

    Right now, I would not say that he is defending his PDP supporters, but the more he keeps silent on this issue the more people will begin to believe that what you say is true.

  35. 0bserver says:

    hi everyone,
    if one calculates the ratio between Ministers and total population of Bhutan & Switzerland, we should not compare performance of persons like OL and Bhutan’s development including human mental development now.
    Bhutan: 10 Ministries for abt 700000 people and Switzerland: 7 Ministries for 7’096’800 people…..but if you go by history, Switzerland was like Thimphu 150 years ago with mountain train as mode of transport. Therefore, i would leave upon my great grand sons to compare people like OL, Bhutan and Switzerland. Today Thimphu is a very small village for Swiss.
    Therefore, don’t ever dream that today’s 10 OLs will convert Bhutan into Switzerland in Asia tomorrow.

    God bless!!!

  36. I second hon’ble Opposition Leader’s concerns about the government ‘playing the media’. The ruling government should not ‘test’ public opinion before legislating a bill. What the government; as all fair governments, should do is establish a system of voting for major changes. Changes that directly affect the very people who elected them to power. Make Member of Parliaments (MPs) get the feed back from the electorate in their constituencies, let those feed backs culminate in the PMs Office, and based on these feed backs let the government push for motion any changes that is deemed necessary. If done so, then the ruling government would not have to worry about the next election as it is currently doing so, in the aftermath of the unpopular tobacco act.

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