Going beyond the awards

On August 23, 2023, the Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB) conducted the Annual Journalism Award, where journalists were recognized for their roles in different capacities. Such awards are important. It conveys a message that journalists are valued. It inspires and motivates, which are precursors for pursuing excellence. It is an opportune moment for celebration. But more importantly, it is an occasion for reflection.

Bhutan’s only daily, Kuensel, was founded in 1967 and it was the sole paper till 2006. Today, we have six English private papers, including Kuensel and one Dzongkha private weekly.

Bhutan Broadcasting Service’s (BBS) first radio broadcasts commenced in November 1973. There are five FM radio stations in the country now, though the only television broadcasting station is BBS.

Looking at the numbers, observers would conclude that the media’s journey has been one of progress and that the media must be fulfilling its responsibilities as required. But the truth is different. We are confronted with several challenges, beginning from survival to sustainability. Several excellent journalists have bid farewell to this noble profession. And we may lose more, due to the recent salary hike of civil servants.

On the other side, we ought to reflect if we have done justice to our profession. Have we been selective instead of being objective? Do we ensure that the information conveyed is right? Are we activists or journalists? Have we adulterated the sanctity of the profession by taking sides and indulging in propaganda? Do we analyze national interests before writing and publishing a story? Are we used and mis-used? There are many questions.

Similarly, it is the right time for agencies and leaders to reflect on the different ways they have helped the media grow. And if there isn’t any, to think about measures that would help the media and themselves.        

Bhutan’s press freedom ranking dropped to 90th place this year from 33, by 57 places, according to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) compiled by the France-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Amongst others, the report states that bureaucracy perpetuates a culture of secrecy and distrust of the press that ends up depriving the population of information of public interest. Access to information has been underlined as the main challenge faced. 

The importance of the media need no elaboration. To quote His Majesty:  “The rights to freedom of information, expression and the media enshrined in the Constitution are fundamental to democracy. In our small nation, media can be even more effective in encouraging debate and participation, vital to building a vibrant democracy.”

To enable the media to play its role effectively, government and other agencies should shred the veil of mistrust. Leaders and bureaucrats should understand that we are Bhutanese first and then journalists. The first lesson we impart to new recruits is national interest. Truth is our guiding light. And the media should not be undermined. We are there to tell and share stories; the challenges faced, achievements, aspirations and sacrifices. We also tell stories about limitations and errors if any, for the story will not be complete without these elements.

We are all headed towards the same destination. We are together building the future, each involved in their own areas of expertise. We have to work together.