Playing the media

Back in 2008, Tenzing Lamsang, working with Kuensel at that time, wrote a series of stories about the impending pay hike for civil servants. His stories, based on information from unnamed “sources” in the government, added fuel to the wild rumors and speculation that were already rife throughout the country.

The government was obviously leaking information to the media. And that, I felt, was dangerous. So I felt compelled to write:

Kuensel’s Tenzing Lamsang is amazing. He’s done it again. He’s written yet another story almost entirely based on government “sources”. And he is thorough – his account is packed with names, dates, places, amounts and important quotes. He seems to know too many details about the confidential debate that the government has been having on the pay hike issue.

Our government is amazing. They’ve done it again. They’ve allowed classified government information to leak, including details of discussions in our highest decision making body, the Cabinet. Is classified information being leaked purposely? Or are they being stolen? If it’s the former, a dangerous game is being played. If it’s the latter, it’s dangerous, plain and simple.

Tenzing Lamsang called me several times after reading my post. He protested that he had not been fed information by the government; that he had not stolen information; and that he had not paid for any information. That’s why I later added that disclaimer at the end of my story.

So imagine my surprise when, last Saturday, I read what Tenzing Lamsang, now with Business Bhutan, had to say about sources:

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.

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.

 

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Comments

  1. If it is “silly”, why make hue and cry, and make issue out of non issue. just ignore it.

    If it is “dangerous”, then, one should dig down and expose it completely. It may not be fair to jump to the conclusion and blame government without enough evidence whether government has played such game intentionally or not. It is very much possible that Tenzing Lamsang might have got the information from someone from finance ministry and not necessarily intended for leak. It might have been unintended leak to which government might have reacted. We are becoming suspicious for everything under the sun which is certainly not good for the country and people.
    Anyway, i hope Tenzing will clarify.

  2. Future doc says:

    Omgsh!! This is not a right thing do be done by the first democratic government of bhutan..this is really suprising to hear..thank you OL for sharing this with us,especially with the future generation..

  3. Hon’ble OL,

    I think it is just the opposite of what you have stated above. The government wanted to increase taxes on car but he publicized in the media even before ministry could issue a notification. Then, I think govt. decided not to increase immediately for some reason but not intentionally to gauge the view of public.
    And again, for the second time when government wanted to increase same tax along with rationalizing and broadening of taxes in july 2010, he caught up ministry with all these new tax policy information and publicized it. I don’t know from where he got the information but he got the facts correct. It appeared to me after reading the Budget Report, 2010, that govt. wanted to revise and introduce new taxes in July 2010 after FM’s budget presentation in the parliament although cabinet in principal has approved to do so.
    Since, govt, thought it would invite lot of speculation which is not healthy for the economy and I personally believe decided to issue notification immediately following his publication in the Business Journal.
    As per the above game played, I personally believe what govt. did is wrong. They didn’t realize what repercussion it would have on them let alone for being filed case to HC & SC.
    Hope, govt. won’t make similar mistakes in future. You did a wonderful job. I admire you!!!!!!!
    View expressed is my own personal comments

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  5. Dogchok-gi-dokchog says:

    Tenzing Lamsang should give the name of his source. He cannot go on accusing the government by using information from secret agents. His source could well be a PDP affilliated civil servant deliberately planted by OL or his party to sabotage the government’s initiatives.

  6. guardian says:

    Haha, OL again talking about a non issue, who is really interested in such a thing as where a journalist gets his info from, instead do something about corruption, something which we are all fed up of. Just see what is happening in neighboring India, the opposition is giving the UPA government so much flak for the corruption scandals that seem to be plaguing them too, why don’t you take a leaf out of their book and do the same here.

    If you did so, I guarantee you that your work in the fight against corruption will be much appreciated.

  7. Tenzing Lamsang says:

    Dear Opposition Leader,
    First of all thank you for the post on my column.

    However i fear that there has been a rather ‘liberal interpretation’ of my column.When i say the information was leaked to me it was by the sources acting by their own will as whistle blowers which if caught by their seniors could even mean termination.
    It takes a lot of courage to do that and to go against one’s own parent agency based on the interest of transparency and the interest of the public.

    Some of these sources at the risk of their jobs have also helped me with some info that have helped me crack crucial investigations like the Ministry of Health Corruption case, Bhutan Lottery etc.

    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.

    Then again sources only provide us with the tip of the iceberg and good journalism is all about exploring the whole iceberg.

    We also don’t take everything at face value. One has to check and filter the raw information, dig deeper, analyze, discuss the consequences, do more research, get the other side and then only print.

    Anyhow in the Bhutanese context the word sources, deep throat, leaks and etc are treated with some understandable suspicion and apprehension. This is because the media and other institutions are evolving in Bhutan but eventually society will understad an accept the greater benefits of such whistle blowers. Yes they may violate some RCSC rules but their actions are nothing short of valiant.

    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.

  8. Oh talking of the Ministry of Health case why has the Opposition Leader not posted anything on it becasue of the Lyonpo Sangey Ngedup, Lyonpo Jigme Singye and other PDP supporters coming ffrom that background. Is he taking out a grudge against Tenzing Lamsang who has done a great job on the MoH corruption case that affects every Bhutanese.

  9. media detective says:

    If we talk of ‘those playing with the media’ I must share that Dasho Kinley Dorji (Ace Kinley), MoIC Secretary has brought in another foreigner to peck at the private media.

    There is no doubt that the consultant, a lawyer, who has been hired from UK has been thoroughly briefed by Ace Kinley. And this could compromise the survival of private media in Bhutan. One question comes to my mind, how this consultant came to Bhutan. Whether through MoIC or through Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD), owned by Pek, Ace Kinley’s wife? If BCMD, then how was the work awarded? This is the same BCMD that is promoting itself abroad as a non-profit organisation which is totally untrue.

    Getting a person from halfway across the globe for 4-5 months will be expensive for the government. The govt. says we need to raise taxes to meet expenses. Yet, here we are making unnecessary expenses paying for a foreigner while the same work can be done by the locals.

    Ace Kinley is starting to act as the fifth estate, controlling the fourth estate. His five years term as the MoIC secretary will all be wasted trying to sabotage the private media. In this matter, he has not been able to grow out of the Kuensel MD tag. Someone needs to remind him that he is now the MoIC Secretary and not the Kuensel MD anymore.

  10. Some of you people are ridiculous, why should Tenzing Lamsang reveal his source. Almost every democratic country in the world, protects Journalists and they are not required to reveal their information sources. Otherwise we would never get anywhere with our already scared media. There is only one person in Bhutan, who should be awarded Druk Thuksey Medal, and that person is Tenzing Lamsang, for overcoming all those obstacles and risking his career to expose corruption in our country.
    Thanks Tenzing Lamsang, I wish we have more people like you in Bhutan.

  11. A journalist has every right to expose the truth as far as it is a truth. Their job is to remove the rug which covers the truth.

    If Mr. Tenzing Lamsang has delivered the truth then he has done nothing wrong. It seems to me like an attack on him on the personal ground.

    If every journalist is pressurized and not protected then the possibility of authentic information reaching the people’s ear is bleak.

    Media plays a vital role in shaping the democracy, and our democracy is still in it’s infancy, it would be discouraging to see media becoming someone’s puppet.

  12. I think Our OL should stop pretending to be really working hard for the country.I think people know what PDP stand for.

  13. I would like to see non-partisan, responsible and truthful journalism rather than journalism dancing to the tunes of politicians, reporting sensational, half- baked, and non-researched news. Such journalism is yet to develop, and i hope budding a-would-be journalists really learn ethics and code of conducts of journalism, if they want to play their part as fourth estate in democratic set-ups.

    What i hear and read these days in Bhutanese media is all accusation, people trying to gain political mileages,people trying to disobey laws, people trying to blow up small things out of proportion, people trying to appear as if they are fighting good societal causes, but in reality is showcasing their selfish motives etc. etc.

    God bless Bhutan

    Cheers

  14. I am surprised at this post. Arent we all FOR transparency? And anyway, why are car taxes and salary hikes ‘classified information’ in the first place? If Lamsang stole any document then the person who he stole it from should put up complaints and then it should be dealt with accordingly. If any of his information is proven wrong, then some other media, or some one concerned with that particular issue should take it up and prove him wrong. Without that, i dont think it is justifiable to speculate that any reporter is a theif. Unnamed sources are a necessity everywhere!

  15. Yes now the floor or the forum is given back to OL himself for his re-justification on every author`s issue against his issue on focus.

    Whatever, this is nothing dangerous for the reason that OL is assuming the government might have deliberately leaked the information on car tax. In the first place, why OL make such issues without a hard proof? We only know OL has ample of time unlike other cabinets to create such forums and bring issues both good and bad but that both should contribute to OL`s political mileage. This is OL`s full time calculation.

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  17. Traala, why don’t you make your own blog too then, if you have time to go through OLs blog and comment, I am sure you will have time to create your own blog.
    Are you implying that DPT MPs and ministers are working 24/7 and the OL is not? I work 12 hours a day and still find time for recreational activities, it is not that hard. Do you think OL should be working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?

    You must be one of those DPT MPs trying to criticize OL no matter what. For people like us we are thankful that OL is sharing his views with us. Why don’t you create a blog yourself and invite people to comment, if you are jealous about OLs blog.

  18. Information Officer says:

    Here comes the need for the Right to Information (RTI) Act. RTI or the Freedom of Information, as some countries call it, will make our government, ministries and agencies transparent and accountable. What is the MoIC doing? Sleeping?

  19. Mr. truth,

    who are you to dictate me to create my own blog. please leave me the option.

    i didnt mean anywhere that MPS and Ministers are working all 24/7 and OL is not. But it is crystal clear for all that OL doesnt have the work as much as cabinet ministers do daily. I dint compare OL with those DPT MPs and thus what is wrong to throw out the some truths.

    I neither want to give damn when u say that am one the DPT MPs or its supporter coz am not, nor i want to debate you that you are in favor of OL or the PDP supporter though you are so guilty when fraction of truths are being disclosed. For your information i will never create a blog but will continue to keep pushing my views whatever and when ever i want to unless it is inaccessible.

  20. mediawatch says:

    I don’t see this issue, in any way, as ‘dangerous’. This has been and is how journalists operate – especially under circumstances where information flow is not transparent, difficult and often impossible, and where sources are not willing to identify themselves for fear of repercussions of all sorts, both real and perceived.

    And if the government has ‘leaked’ or is leaking “classified” (need to define this word) information to gauge public opinions – what harm does it do? On the contrary, this is good (in one way as i see it) as it helps people to understand government policies…and the government can make amendments accordingly before implementing it.

    And on the government’s part, this is clearly an understanding of how it must deal with the media. We have heard of political “spin doctors”!! And perhaps this is how the present government is trying to conduct itself with the media.

    Now the onus falls on the media – what information to take in and what to leave out! If the media is merely bringing out those issues the government wants, perhaps then there is a reason to be worried. This would mean the government is trying to manipulate media reports. This also seriously questions the discretionary wisdom and powers of media professionals.

  21. thanks tenzin lamsang! you are doing great job. i always find time to read your article. bhutan need such journalist and you are only one.

  22. after his case with JYT OL seems to be on an ego trip and now is becoming the moral police. why is he then silent on corruption cases against singye group of companies or damchen, what are his views on fronting, why is he silent on MoH case.

    after working for zimdra and protecting zimdra by fighting the tax case is he now atrgetting tenzing lamsang who has been digging out corruption cases against singye.

  23. media detective, don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill.

  24. I don’t understand why a discussion on tax should be classified. OK, may be the Government was being a little sly in deliberately leaking the information (if they did it), but even so, how is it dangerous? As I common citizen, I wish every journalist had a ‘source’ like Tenzin lamsang since the legislators are so keen on doing everything rather secretively.

  25. Tenzing Lamsang says:

    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.

  26. Mr Lamzang – why are you so silent on the lottery scam? Have you been given stick or sweetener?

  27. Tenzin Lamzang,

    I have been reading what you have written and I have been reading what you have achieved in the last few years through “investigative jounalism” as you like to phrase it. I really admire you for the work you are doing and i think if there were more reporters like you it would be great.
    But i think its fair enough for the rest of us to ask what really your true sources are. Because while there might me “whistle blowers” who provide you with the information of the most recent and top secret information of the Government policies and agendas, we might want to weigh it with the security and what other consequences it might have on the overall implementation of the policies. If certain information are meant to be confidential because leaking them might adverse affect such as hoarding imported cars because of a tax raise, i think “investigative journalism” that you did doesn’t serve the purpose. Because investigative to me also means analyzing pros and cons and the unintended consequences.
    You are right whistles blowers are important but some cases should be dealt on a case by case basis. Information such as tax raises are confidential and should be kept that way. If they are leaked, whoever leaked it has a conflict of interest or so to speak should not be on the committee.

    One other thing, journalists are not activists and do not advocate for change. they provide information to the people.

  28. also your article on the “The ‘source’ that nearly pulled the government down” has a lot of opinion which to me is again not right for a reporter….

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