Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sorry State of Bhutanese Media

I have read about sorry state Bhutanese private media frequently. Media houses sprouted like grasses in the spring at one point. Then they wilted for want of monetary support or returns. On other hand, some of us, who are regular readers, lament quality and quantity of news content. We blame on incompetent and inexperienced reporters who joined private media as last resort to get themselves employed. We don’t care about financial situation of media houses. Once in its good time, when media houses were in height of its greatness, we really thought that private media could not only give alternate news but also give stiff competition to state owned media. But cruel rupee crisis nib the bud of bustling media. On other hand, media houses blame deteriorating state on lack of government support and profitability. The media houses were not able to pay employees on time or their salaries were slashed. Some media houses closed down. The lack of profitability has discouraged senior and experienced journalists from working. They either joined state media or do different jobs that give them means to sustain. Today, I see some of good private journalists doing average journalism in state owned media.  I also see some of them working in other jobs ranging from consultancy to giving tuitions to students.
Today, I can also see names of my friends under news articles in some of private-owned newspapers. In one media, I see one of my graduate friends elevated to post of editor due to which I feel like Harvard educated citizen (though many friends told me my English is laughable). One time, I grasped that paper intending to show off to my family of having editor friend. Now I will not read that paper ever.
In 2013, I had an opportunity to observe one private newspaper for my assignment as a trainee in Royal Institute of Management. I learnt that particular media house doesn’t have vision, mission or values. It was opened to get share of government advertisement pie. That time, as democracy was  just started, government had been throwing money for advertisements indiscriminately on media houses. Almost all private media never invested in media business development. Instead, proprietors enjoyed their family holidays in Bangkok or Singapore. They didn’t even bother to keep certain percentage of profit as rolling budget. They thought money will come from government in forms of advertisement like rivers since Bhutan was young democratic country. They felt that sustaining media houses in young democracy was responsibility of government. When government abruptly stopped indiscriminate advertisements, the exodus of competent journalists was heart-wrenching. The media houses that once boast of having 30 employees had to work with two to three employees. They were caught off-guard without having either strategy or competency to come out with strategy to steer off from doom. Their lack of business strategy or corporate strategy came as shock and they were too ill-prepared to respond to it. Some of them couldn’t pay salary for next two months. Employees were either suggested to leave or left the media houses on their own volition. On other hand, owners also couldn’t close media houses immediately as they felt responsible to provide for those who didn’t leave or ignore suggestion to leave. They try to sustain through selling some odd books.
But it didn’t help media houses at all. Some media houses closed down while some only print whenever they get enough advertisements. News for whole publication is by one or two journalists. Today, state of private media just became sort of Chicken and Egg story. Media houses want advertisements first so that they can improve the print, coverage and content. On other hand, advertisers (almost all advertisers are government and corporate agencies) want to advertise in those papers which reach to large and right audience. The issue became whether there should be more coverage to attract advertisement or whether government agencies to advertise so that private media can grow. Both can’t afford to concede as both work under economic principle of limited resources.
But there is something government and media houses can work out. There could be many ways but only one thing comes into my mind. Private media wants help from government agencies but it is not advisable on part of government agencies to distribute ads equally among media houses. Firstly, for many agencies, there are just not enough works that needs media’s help in getting message across. Secondly, they don’t have enough budget to do charity. They want maximum impact for minimum cost. For example, an agency has tender work for huge construction, they will either go to BBS or Kuensel for greater impact and credibility. If agency has vacancies for uneducated people, they will go to BBS. But government can support media directly through scheme like that state funding of election. The Parliament should pass a law to help state support media. The coverage of media should be qualification to receive fund. The amount should directly depend on coverage.  Higher the number of paper sold, higher should be the support. Let’s say a paper cost Nu. 10 per print is sold 1000. The government may give 20% of total cost as support.  Nu. 20%*10*1000=Nu. 20000. Rest of the amount should be left for media houses themselves to either fund through advertisement or sale of papers. This will not solve problem but will definitely mitigate problem and also work as incentive. The idea behind making into law is to prevent politicisation by ruling party.

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