A young democracy, fragile media and a Foundation

For a democracy to succeed, vibrant and independent media is critically important.

As Bhutan prepared for a change in governance, plurality of media had to find a space. It was 2006. Bhutan Times and Bhutan Observer came. It was just the beginning. Many more would follow.

The early days of media growth was exciting. It was exciting because it fostered healthy competition. There was then the quality of journalism to talk about. It was as if Bhutan changed overnight.

Good days do not last forever. Bhutan’s media development hit the cul-de-sac not long after. Blame must go to regulations and poor vision on the part of regulatory authorities.

Six years after media boom, media houses were going broke and whining. For media owners, it was money not professionalism. For the professionals, it was a dead end too soon. Seasoned journalists began to leave and that gave a new face to the Bhutanese media. It wasn’t only a rough ride; it was sad.

There was a need for intervention.

His Majesty the King on February 21, 2010 issued a Royal Charter to establish Bhutan Media Foundation, a non-profit entity that shall be exempted from taxes and duties in carrying out its activities and programmes “to foster the growth of a strong, responsible media capable of playing an important role in the social, economic and political growth of the nation.”

The foundation is mandated to support the wholesome development of mass media so that it can carry out its roles and responsibilities in the interest of the democracy. It is expected of the foundation to support the media in enhancing skills through scholarships, internships and training, strengthening media executive management, and leadership skills.

The foundation supports the sustainability and growth of newspapers and broadcast stations, journalists associations and press clubs, and invest in the future readership of the print media by providing subscription grants to the newspapers, schools and colleges in the country.

With the core responsibility to take effective action targeted at informing society by fostering the growth of free, independent, responsive and credible media, the foundation aims to sustain democracy by developing the Bhutanese media through transformational initiatives that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster freedom of expression, information and press.

The foundation has spent more than Nu 23 million on training and Nu 2.7 million for content grant

But there are myriad challenges.

The foundation receives small support from international partners to carry out its mandate to create opportunities for short and long-term studies and training within and outside Bhutan, support exchange programmes and links with training institutions, professional associations, research centres, and media organisations within and outside Bhutan, to support in-country journalism and mass communication programmes in colleges and institutes, support participation in seminars, workshops, and conferences on issues related to the media, and to institute in-country scholarships for journalism studies for Bhutanese students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

However, the plans and developmental programmes of the foundation is dependent on donors.

So far, more than a thousand media professionals have been trained. The foundation has spent more than Nu 23 million on training and Nu 2.7 million for content grant.

The foundation’s executive director, Dawa Penjor, said: “ Looking at the media scenario today, we wonder if our initiatives made any difference.”

The state of the media today is that the needs have not changed at all. The development of media has almost stunted. That’s why the foundation continues to provide the same training to the media professionals.

Despite challenges, the foundation sees many opportunities. Mentorship programme that the foundation started two years ago is perhaps the most sustainable initiative yet.  At a time when the media houses in Bhutan are losing trained and experienced professionals by droves, training and preparing young entrants have become critically important.

Then there is the thing about the quality of journalism. When professionals do not stay in the job for long, quality of journalism has only to suffer. When media houses cannot pay their employees, the quality of journalism has only to hit rock bottom. This is the situation of media in the country today. Transition is slow. Media contents are often leaving a large number of our people outside of the area of their interest.

These are come of the challenges that the foundation is faced with today. Whatever the challenges, however, the foundation is focused on delivering its mandate because there is a hope.

That’s how Dawa Penjor looks at the foundation’s future and its relationship with media in Bhutan.

Mission

The mission of Bhutan Media Foundation is to take effective action targeted at informed society by fostering the growth of free, independent, responsive and credible media that play a constructive role in the social, economic, and political life of the nation, thereby leading to vibrant democracy.

Vision

The foundation aims to sustain democracy by developing the Bhutanese media through transformational initiatives that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster Freedom of Expression, Information and Press.

With support from Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD)

Jigme Wangchuk

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