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?

 

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.

Lottery scam

An excellent piece of investigative journalism, about Bhutan’s role in the Indian lottery scam, by Business Bhutan’s Tenzing Lamsang, that screams for answers.