It would be a hyperbole to use the word “war.” But a “battle of words” did ensue between the media and executives last year after the unfortunate incident of foresters who sought the media’s assistance and came on air to pour out their grievances. It was called an act of subordination, a direct contravention of a civil servant’s code of conduct. Since then, relations between the media and bureaucrats turned sour. Amidst this, there were the wise ones who said there would be no development without conflict. “It is good for everyone.”
At the penultimate moment of the last year, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) came out with an executive order about the model public service code of conduct. It cited section 35 of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 201, which specifically requires the ACC to develop such a code. Once more, the fire was ignited, with even certain sections not within the media fraternity questioning, “What is happening?”
Meanwhile, the ACC has explained that the limitation accorded in the Model Code does not limit a public servant from disclosing information when required by law to disclose the information in their custody. No constitutional right to freedom of speech has been impaired and that it would complement the duty to exercise freedom of speech responsibly.
This is a key word – responsibility. Everything should be used responsibly, including information, some of which are very powerful ones. The ACC has added that they envisage to see and facilitate the disclosure and dissemination of correct, accurate, reliable and authentic official information by public servant.
Apart from this, the ACC seeks to establish mechanism for disclosure of official information in order to enable public access to quality official information – accurate, correct, reliable, complete and authentic official information, which will promote and enhance the quality of public reporting. If it really happens, it is “good news” for the media, for the Bhutanese media has been thrown from post to pillar, from media focal persons to senior executives and more; sometimes landing without even a sentence of comment at the end of the day.
We also know that every information cannot be shared. However, sometimes, a word or two gets out; even those that should never be. With this move from the ACC, information that cannot and should not be shared, will remain in the closet. This is a universal phenomenon.
To sum up, what the ACC finally and ultimately intends to do is to strengthen its core role of fighting corruption. The Commission has also acknowledged the role of the media. And it comes at the right time; when transformation is ongoing. Only time will indicate if the ACC’s Model Code will achieve its purpose. But for the present, everyone needs to cooperate, even the most adamant critics.
The Model Code is not another brick in the wall.