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.

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.