On behalf of the Bhutanese media, the Media Council of Bhutan had to write a letter addressed to the Chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) on the issue of access to information, due to which journalists are unable to write stories of public interest with adequate clarity and depth.
The Media Council has requested the RCSC “to kindly facilitate easy access to public information for the media so that they can play their role to inform and educate the people.”
How did this start and who is accountable? There will definitely be differences in it, but all will agree that the embers were there. And it transformed into a fire after the media wrote about two civil servants who were compulsorily retired, “for speaking to the media.”
The argument from the other side is that it happened due to “subordination.” After that ensued formal and informal instructions in different offices to stay away from the media. Don’t breach the code of conduct! This was the dictum; civil servants followed it faithfully and we lost our sources.
Information dissemination is vital and the way in which information is packaged is even more important. If government agencies are not comfortable about opening up to the media, one reason could be a lack of confidence as they may not know how to package and spin stories to their advantage.
This is why media focal persons are required. And the need for this strategic post has been voiced repeatedly. Government agencies began to experiment. Chief Planning Officers (CPOs) were given the post. After sometime, the CPOs when called for information directed the media to the directors and other senior officials. In other words, this experiment failed.
But it doesn’t mean that media focal persons should be there. Based on the information required, agencies can ask the media to approach relevant professionals.
There are several ramifications that may erupt if we remain in a stalemate. There are possibilities of unethical practices, such as media houses paying civil servants for “breaking news,” and leakage of news. Media houses with technical experts may break into the laptops of leaders.
Something that needs to be shared immediately is the misconception that the media is out to jeopardize someone. We have a significant role – to disseminate the right information to the people. If there are cases of corruption, it is our duty to report accordingly. If an agency has performed an excellent task, it is the duty of the media to report accordingly.
Bhutan’s strength has always been unity, led by visionary leaders. We have scaled peaks together. And at this particular juncture, when the country is undergoing an unprecedented reform, the media and all other agencies should stand together and collectively row towards the island that houses the vision of His Majesty the King.
We ought to forget yesterday and begin with a clean sheet. A pen without enough ink will not write well. The media is the pen and information is the ink. Let’s begin writing together!