ECB says media arbitrator will handle social media content

Citing exponential growth of social media users in Bhutan and the very nature of the virtual platform, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has admitted that monitoring posts related to the elections will be a daunting task.

However, according to the spokesperson of the ECB and also head of department of election, Sonam Tobgyal, the media arbitrator will seek to address the challenge.

The commission has appointed a public official as the media arbitrator responsible for the administration on media coverage of election rules and regulations and the provisions of the Election Act that deal with political and campaign broadcasts and advertising.

The media arbitrator will also be responsible for allocation of campaign broadcasting time and space in print media and resolving disputes among broadcasters, political parties and candidates under the Election Act.

He or she will receive complaints and other communications on the performance of newspapers, radio and television stations and also those related to social media and issue appropriate public statements.

Sonam Tobyal said the office of the media arbitrator is overlooking the media coverage and every dzongkhag has a focal person to monitor social media content. “Whenever we get reports, we deal accordingly.”

According to Sonam Tobyal, a kind of check and balance is already in place as the increasing number of candidates make sure to report to the commission themselves if things are not right.

“With the development of technology, it is very challenging to monitor social media use, especially platforms like wechat where posts go viral instantly since it includes a group and cannot be seen openly like Facebook,” he said.

Meanwhile, ECB notified the public and social media users that any post, tweet, comment or opinion of a candidate must be in conformity with the election code of conduct.

ECB also urged the use of social media responsibly while refraining from using anonymous identity or fake addresses. It also prohibits activity or post content that may adversely affect or unduly benefit the electoral prospects of candidates.

Additionally, the commission warns social media users to refrain from any posts related to the elections, which can be construed as a campaign.

However, Sonam Tobyal said that once the candidates have finished filing their nominations and after scrutiny, each candidate can share his or her social media link to the returning officer so that the social media focal person will be able to monitor and regulate social media content on individual candidates.

“Individual candidate can post during the campaign period but they have to follow the rules of conduct. They should be mindful while posting on social media,” said Sonam Tobgyal.

He said that mainstream media should ensure that all candidates get a level playing field. “Each candidate should be given not more than half a page of coverage.”

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu