Muzzling the press!

In what is a clear indication to make access to information further tedious and tiresome, Thimphu Thromde has notified on April 12 through its Facebook page that any individual or media personnel wishing to avail information from the Thromde should fill up a form and submit it to its Media Relations Officer.

While the Thromde has justified that the new system of disseminating information would allow them to give proper time and information to the media, it seems that the policy is nothing but an attempt to control the information given to the media and muzzle the press by making information sharing more cumbersome. As the freedom of media predominantly depends on access to information, we can, therefore, say there is no freedom of media when there is no access to information.

One clear picture from the Thromde’s new system is that it doesn’t want journalists answerable to their readers and followers, but to the people working in the Thromde and with powers to decide which information to share or not to disseminate to the media.

The instance is similar to the government’s doing during the first Meet-The-Press session, where the Prime Minister reprimanded the media professionals and called them incompetent and unprofessional. The reason was that the media professionals weren’t asking interesting questions. For the Prime Minister and other ministers, questions on their choice of subject are interesting or rather subjects already decided prior to the session. Such a possibility therefore cannot be ruled out where the Thromde in the future will only share information which it considers interesting, relevant and befitting.

Further, the digital era in which we live today and with the kinds of audience, there is an increasing demand of real-time information from the media. One of the concerns amongst the mainstream journalists is how effectively they can real-time communicate if media personnel need to go through the ridiculous rigmarole of filing up form and submitting them to the Thromde office, and then wait for days to get the answers back.

It’s because of such red-tape and formalities, social media has become the alternative platform for people to access unverified, unchecked, fake and derogatory news. This is especially unhealthy for a country’s democracy. Because if democracy allows people to determine their own future, that choice or determination must be based on factual and accurate information. Credible information is pivotal which would only come from credible media. Further, perceptions and beliefs that are prevalent within a few of the current agencies, which see media as threat to their existence and interests, must also change if we are to ensure good governance and not just government. Media has a pivotal role that a democratic government ensures transparency, sincerity, and accountability. This role of the media is not only confined to the elected government, but should also apply to all the other government institutions and agencies. The fact is strengthening free media will ultimately only strengthen democracy and promote liberty. Now the choice is up to us.