Journalists not happy with election norms

Media houses say there is no uniformity in disbursing election information, besides reporters being mistreated

If there was any fuss involving the primary round elections this week, “Returning Officers (RO) not disbursing information” is on top of the pile of complaints journalists lodged with their respective agencies.

Media should be free to move around the polling stations and can stay for five minutes inside the polling stations. However Bhutanese journalists were not provided electorate information by most of the ROs on November 30, calling for a uniform rule across the country.

A senior bureau reporter of Kuensel, Neten Dorji said, “Electoral officials were reluctant to give us simple information. Information is not for media personal, it’s for the nation. They really need to understand about why we seek information.”

He said that the electoral officials know that media people are issued cards by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB). “If not for the card, I wouldn’t even be allowed to be in the vicinity of polling stations.”

The senior reporter recommended that before the nation goes for the general round elections, coordinated meetings must be conducted between the media and the ECB regarding access to information and uniformity in rules and regulations across the country.

He said, “Some ROs give information whereas others don’t. This makes us frustrated.”

Similarly, another bureau reporter of Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS), Kinley Dem said, “it was difficult to get information and we were not allowed to take phone inside when all other officials inside could take phone.” She questions that how do media people work without gadgets?

The bureau reporter shared that  it may not be the media professionals who leak information.

“As a journalist, I would never take the risk to share information without cross checking with the relevant officials,” She said.

In Addition she said, “I think it’s okay to allow journalist to take phone inside but make sure the journalists also cooperate with the officials. The responsibility of cooperating with the officials and delivering accurate information also falls on the journalist.”

Meanwhile, Kinley Dem said that electorate officials had no choice as they must  be briefed by the authority.

As a first-time reporter covering election, Monica Rai from The Bhutanese said that it was not entirely satisfying. “There appeared to be mismanagement and discrimination in the dissemination of information,” she shared.

Though election information should be disseminated immediately, she said, “There was a lack of urgency from the related officials, to ensure accurate reporting.”  Being a new reporter, she said that obtaining information was not an easy task and it depended on the personal connections. “Disparities were evident, with information being more readily shared if there was a familiarity with the individual seeking it. The current system seems to favor those with connections.”

Monica Rai suggested that ECB should enhance processes of passing information, in a more organized way. “It is crucial to treat every media firm equally, not favoring just broadcast outlets,” she said.

One of the reporters of Business Bhutan experienced a mistreatment by the police on duty inside the polling booth at Debsi, South Thimphu.

Sonam Penjor from Bhutan Times too faced similar treatment at Debsi pooling booth.

Meanwhile, the reporters have witnessed a clean election this time compared to the past. Voters were non-partisan and there was no hatred among party supporters.

However, according to Thukten Zangpo, a Kuensel reporter, “Access to information is still a problem, despite conducting trainings and briefings for election officials, election officials had differing views on do’s and don’ts, as some ROs do share info while others are reluctant, shielding themselves under ECB’s name.”

The reporter suggested that ECB could streamline the information command to the officials clearly, and inform media personnel in press briefings before the election.

ECB conducted meeting with reporters from different media houses after the National Council election. Themed as “Learning from Experience,” ECB said that the Commission will sort out and work for improvement. Reporters were also oriented with election coverage. ECB also trains election officials before the election to respond to media.

Generally, the availability of accurate and comprehensive information is crucial for upholding democracy in order to ensure free and fair elections, as well as to flourish democratic values.

The responsibility for tackling these issues lies with media outlets, political parties, and electoral regulators, who play a significant role in safeguarding fundamental human rights and internationally accepted standards and norms.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu