The letter from the Office of the Media Arbitrator (OMA) to the Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation Limited (BBSCL) and Kuensel Corporation informing the two media houses to ensure that all election-related news is balanced in nature is a crux of objective journalism. However, what we fail to understand is the context in which the letter was sent. Pointing out BBSCL’s coverage of penalties imposed on one political party aired on December 20th, OMA has said that it “may be construed as unbalanced in nature and may influence the elections directly or indirectly.” Similarly, the letter to Kuensel is about a party’s coordinator being fined.
Firstly, the letter indicates that the OMA itself is not clear if BBSCL and Kuensel did indulge in unbalanced reporting, for the OMA says that the coverage “may be construed as unbalanced.” If definite that there was bias, it has every right to caution and even fine BBSCL or any other media agency that engages in unbalanced reporting. Issuing such a letter based on probabilities does not bode well for an important institution like the OMA, especially when the media has the sacred task to help ensure that elections are free and fair.
If the OMA is taking “balanced reporting” literally, does it mean that media houses wait for the other political party also to be penalized and then carry on with the task of sacrosanct balanced reporting? And what if the other political party is never penalized? Or is it being suggested that in such cases, the media refrain from covering such news?
For a minute, let us forget about the elections and imagine a case where one ministry from the nine is constantly involved in corruption. Does it mean that the media should wait for another ministry or all the nine ministries to indulge in acts of corruption and then cover the news to ensure “balanced reporting”?
We are in an era of real-time news and the mainstream media is facing stiff challenges from social media outlets. In such a scenario, the mainstream media is also accused of not covering the news. We do not want to be labeled such and thus take on news and report, for this is an intrinsic part of our duty. BBSCL and Kuensel’s story was balanced and objective, in the sense that there were no factual errors and it was meant to inform the people.
We are not suggesting that the mainstream media is undermined. Nonetheless, we are aware, especially during elections of the need to be professional, objective, and present to the people, stories that are balanced. Bhutanese media, especially a national broadcaster like BBSCL and Kuensel, the nation’s only daily, with decades of experience, would know more than anyone what balanced reporting, and in this case, balanced political reporting means.
The OMA’s role is as important as the role of the media. And it is reassuring to see the Media Arbitrator asking the media to consult OMA and the ECB for required information. We have to work together.