Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Detoriating Freedom of Expression in Bhutan?

Bhutanese media made a mountain out of anthill regarding downhill journey of freedom of expression in Bhutan. Some media houses made comments on how Bhutan is heading to autocracy from monarchy. As an educated and citizen of this great nation, I don’t share the concern of media houses at all. The media houses whine so much of freedom of expression while many forget the responsibility of expression. They often forget that freedom of expression always has reasonable constraints differing in each country based on socio-political nature of the country. The media feels that they are being victimized by various steps undertaken by the state especially selective media advertising scheme of government while they forget their papers aren’t worthy to receive taxpayers’ money both in terms of quality as well as circulation.  All they grumble is about dwindling revenue pie which most thought was their birthright. That is why many media houses mushroomed in Bhutan in first place and some just to get the portion of pie.
Coming to media freedom in Bhutan, Bhutan is ranked 82nd position in the world in 2013, a slip of 12 places from 2012 and 16 places from 2011. While media houses are concerned about media freedom in Bhutan in last three years, they forgot to compare with freedom before 2008, the freedom before democracy. It will be only fair if we could do cumulative comparison between at least five years before 2008 and five years after 2008. This will give accurate picture of media scenario in Bhutan. Freedom of expression in Bhutan should also be compared with freedom in other countries. For instance, India and Indian prided themselves of being world’s largest democracy. Their press freedom ranking is in 140th position. Indian democracy was in making for more than 66 years.  Comparing to that our democracy and press freedom is 52 steps ahead of our republic brother.

So our media and journalists must understand the comparison before concluding their thesis and lament over something that is not a serious problem.  They should think twice before penning their perception and thrusting into people’s court. Without such responsibility to safeguard the image of nation, the freedom of expression is not worth fighting for. For general public, how loud media can howl doesn’t matter. What matter is development, peace and prosperity though public had tendency to lose sleep over loud howling of media which is often much ado about nothing.

As the finding of media freedom by Journalist without Border is based on statements of journalists, activists and researchers, the concept of freedom is flawed because of social and cultural contexts of each country is often ignored.  It is also possible our journalist- respondents feel that way because of their low salary and because government’s financial support unlike earlier is selective.  After all, our media fraternity expects government to pay them for service not worth from taxpayer’s money. If government has adopted liberal advertising policy despite economic problems, our reporters would have rated press freedom otherwise.
The media house in the world faced huge financial losses in initial years.  This is the period of time where quality is improved and public acceptance is sought through various strategies. They also don’t expect government to carry them forward.  If the quality and acceptance is achieved, the revenue followed. Here in Bhutan, our media houses are being adamant. They refused the circulation audit which would have been basis of government support in form advertisement share. They needed an equal share of unfairly unequal work.  Now when government do selective advertising based on target audience and reach, they feel their freedom is curtailed.
On the other hand, innovative marketing and circulation strategies might help. How many of circulation officers are professionally trained for the work. All they do is distribute papers. How many marketing officers brainstormed to find new clients, to carry out innovative advertisement? All they do is flip announcements in kuensel and bothers client give them the same. Why can’t our marketing officers attract international clients? Every year, new brands and products are entering Bhutan. Why can’t our papers attract them? There are two main reasons; untrained professionals and ignorant management. As it owned by one or few people who are often under-educated, all they could see is monthly profit and lose statements. The possession media marketing knowledge by management, marketing officers and even reporters would help hugely in generating revenue. They must understand, their jobs are not mutually exclusive.
However, this is not to say government should ignore responsibilities of media. The government too should enable the creation of conducive media environment through proactive legislation and policies. In the eyes of observers, two things played major roles; selective advertising and failure to introduce Right to Information Bill. On top of that childish decision of education ministry to disallow media presence in annual conference was insult to already grumbling media fraternity. The media sustenance and freedom of expression are often responsibilities of media fraternity themselves not the government. Just that I am not paid to write this crap, media house shouldn’t expect to be paid. After all, under constitution, media only enjoys freedom of expression only as much as common people.  

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