Bhutanese newsroom scenario amid pandemic-so far, so good

As the country sees layoffs and their gradual absorption in alternative sectors, so far, there has been no news of media houses relieving their staff.

Indeed, journalists seem to be relatively unaffected by the pandemic except in their modus operandi of obtaining information and social distancing at work.

Executive Director of Journalist Association of Bhutan (JAB), Namgay Zam said that JAB has tried to reach out to media houses to find out if they have contingency plans in case of a lockdown, “but we are yet to hear back from them.” She also said the Prime Minister has been optimistic about Bhutan not having to lockdown “so maybe Bhutan will get lucky and things can continue at the current pace.”

She added that media houses have not furloughed journalists and no one has lost their jobs. “So our journalists are in a better situation than others. But if such a situation does arise then JAB will extend support in whatever way we can to our journalists.”

Namgay Zam added that JAB has also taken the safety of journalists seriously and already distributed protective equipment to all journalists for free thanks to support from the Bhutan Media and Communications Institute and their partners. “The safety and security of journalists is our top priority right now.”  

Talking to the Business Bhutan, the president of Media Association of Bhutan, Tenzing Lamsang said, the main source of revenue for private media houses depends on the government advertisement which has drastically gone down recently which is around 70% and this is due to shut down of many government offices.

He also said that his team at The Bhutanese conducts meeting once a week to avoid crowding, the chairs in the office are kept 2m apart and the office makes sure that there is no crowding in the rooms. “Face mask is compulsory and every room has to have two windows open, and reporters are informed not to interview any quarantined person face to face,” he said. 

The staff in The Bhutanese are also maintaining social distance to be on the safer side.

A journalist from one of the media houses said, “I don’t have any idea on safety issues of other Bhutanese journalists but when it comes to me, I use my own strategies without breaching the rules and till now I am safe.”

Another journalist also said that the first consideration is that they work from a distance – not only in the transmission of information, but also in their their media structures, distance has become essential. “Using the most normal means of communication, starting with phones, WhatsApp exchanges, and emails, we get the information.”

CEO of Radio Valley, Kinley Wangchuk said, as far as possible his team is working from home and some work at the office when they are in need of their office equipment. “Most of the time we don’t encourage guest and these days the team is working on a farm.”

To maintain safety in the office, the office has made sure that the people who have been assigned computers can only use their own computers; hand sanitizers are also placed in the office.

Another journalist said that the office has arranged hand sanitizers along with washing stations in the office premises for the employees and visitors. “Visitors are restricted from entering certain areas in the office to ensure critical employees remain safe.”

He also said that employees were briefed on personal safety. “We don’t give up.”

Sonam Tashi from Thimphu