Foster media for a vibrant democracy

The Prime Minister expressed his disappointment with the media last week during the first meet the press session and exhorted media to ask interesting questions. This was in the wake of the cabinet members having had come well prepared on the 12th Plan and not many specific questions coming from the media around the theme.

Post meet the press session, Bhutanese media practitioners are taking in such remarks by the Prime Minister with a pinch of salt. They are questioning what the Prime Minister meant by ‘interesting questions’ or ‘juicy questions’.

Is it supposed to mean questions that are interesting to the government and that government find interesting? Or is it supposed to mean asking critical questions expected out of the media in fulfilling its watchdog role?

Going by the questions that have dominated discussions during the Friday Meet so far and the first meet the press session, the media have been asking critical questions. Aren’t the questions on how the government would fulfill its ambitious pledges interesting questions and of interest to the people who voted the party to power?

News organizations and media don’t dictate news events and issues. They simply report, keeping in mind the questions that must be asked in relation to specific issues. And the must-ask question is not the question that a particular news organization finds it interesting. It’s the question whose answer is looked forward by the readers or audience.

The Prime Minister’s statement refusing to entertain any question outside the theme from the next session is, therefore, purely authoritarian. It also conveys a negative message on the way the Prime Minister’s office is trying to dictate the media. And it definitely does not bode well for both the new government and the young media. 

In serving and catering to readers or audience, media often comes across a gamut of issues that the readers want to know about and which cannot be narrowed down to a single theme, such as the 12th Plan. Even the government’s role for that matter spans across many important issues and sectors, and is not just confined to a single issue or theme. 

Friday Meet and meet the press session are great platforms for media and government to interact and share. And it is best conducted in a free environment.

Further, the media’s failure to ask specific questions on the 12th Plan cannot be taken as an example of non-performance by Bhutanese as described by the Prime Minister. The analogy is firstly misplaced and secondly it calls for deeper reflections on issues plaguing the media in Bhutan. If ‘interesting questions’ as in critical questions were not asked, what is the problem? Isn’t it because we have young, inexperienced and untrained reporters? Accusing them of being unprofessional and undermining their professional abilities will take us no further. 

Rather than berating and calling the media inefficient, the government must look into the problems and challenges plaguing the Bhutanese media; help explore solutions and intervene accordingly for the professional development of the media. If it’s the media capacity that needs to be built, then the government must look into it accordingly.

There is no other befitting reason for media development than the one put up by His Majesty The King, who has also insisted that the country should foster a free media, for it in turn, fosters a vibrant democracy.