Kuensel on Sunday received an invitation to cover an inauguration of a community centre. It is a normal routine to receive invitations to cover events, except that this one had a warning attached to it. If the event were not covered, they would not cooperate with Kuensel in future!
The future cooperation here could be about not “giving” information or even advertising, that newspapers depend so much on for sustenance and survival. The event was covered.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Our newsmakers know how to hit where it hurts the most. With about 12 newspapers competing for government advertising, news managers have to be extra cautious. If you displease an agency or a corporation with an article, no matter how factual or true it may be, you could end up getting blacklisted. The main source of revenue for newspapers would dry up.
With competition for the limited advertisement market, news managers are walking a tightrope. As news media becomes commercialised, news managers are now more answerable to owners than to citizens, whom they are supposed to be beholden to. Editors, for the sake of business, make a lot of compromises.
This may be a global trend, even with big media houses, but it is dangerous. In the Bhutanese context, it’s even worse. Our advertisements are largely public notifications and announcements. These are not advertisements per se, but important information to the public to make, what we call, informed decisions.
If such information is withheld for not liking a media house, or given to the wrong media, the public will be at a loss. Today, we receive feedback that some buy newspapers just for notifications and announcements. It pains to know that, but it is true.
Kuensel, in the past, and on many occasions, was threatened with a blockade of advertising when our articles displeased officials. But to put into context, and repeat what we had already said, information does not belong to the concerned agencies or officials. It is not for the media houses. It is the right of the people to have access to information. This includes government decisions, public announcement and notifications. Nobody is doing any favour to anybody by sharing information. Newspapers and TVs are just a medium of communicating.
Government advertising doesn’t belong to officials or media focal persons, it belongs to the people of Bhutan. And it has to be reached to them. Denying media advertising because they have personal differences, or they (media) had a different opinion, could border on corruption.
If media have to work without fear or favour, they will have to be independent. To a large extent, independence comes when they can stand on their legs, and do not compromise the important responsibility for commercial gains.
The independence of the media was recognised as far as 1992, when His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo issued a royal decree to delink Kuensel and BBS, to let them function independently of government ministries.
If we are to be seen as a responsibility more than a business, we cannot be held at ransom.