The past few months have been unpleasant, with the media accusing the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) or its officials for being media unfriendly, while officials accuse the media of bashing the commission with one-sided stories.

It has become clearer now. At an open and frank discussion between top officials from the Commission and media representatives yesterday to clarify doubts and suspicions, the Chairperson of the commission put on record that civil servants must speak to the media because they are accountable to the people. The effort to meet heads of media to clear doubts and confusion is encouraging. All agreed that it is just the start.

There are rules and regulations that govern civil servants. The media must respect it too. However, if the information is in the interest of the public, civil servants must share information. That was the understanding which the media representatives requested the commission to share with civil servants. 

In the recent past, the reform in the civil service, the unfortunate incident of compulsorily retiring two foresters created a false fear among civil servants.  Many were under the impression that they cannot share information, even if it was basic facts or figures to complete a news article, say like a decline in agricultural produce. 

At a time when the civil service is undergoing important changes, it is imperative for the people affected by the change to understand it. Initiatives like the performance management systems are new. It takes time to implement changes, especially when people resist change. The media can play a role particularly in the fast- changing environment.

Free flow of information can help clear misunderstanding or division in the society. Still largely  an oral society, there is not much we can hide. The  mainstream media could clear a lot of doubts and misunderstanding with the right information and their reach. This is crucial when many get their information from unverified social media platforms. 

However, like a media expert said, it is the responsibility of media and journalists to verify information or do their legwork rather than relying on mere complaints. Quite often, when officials do not comment on issues, journalists proceed with what they have.  

The Bhutanese media, despite its shortcomings, knows they have a responsibility including respecting code and conduct of civil servants. An unhappy civil servant complaining is not national news. However, if he or she points out lapses, favouritism, or nepotism in the system, verified by the media, it becomes newsworthy. The Managing for Excellence system, a performance management system will make many civil servants unhappy. Many will come to the media, as the last resort, with grievances, with or without motives. Sharing information, for instance, how the MAX system is implemented and why a certain percent are in the “need improvement” category would prevent disgruntlement against the commission. A disgruntled civil servant – crucial for public service delivery –  is the last thing we need when we are transforming to be a developed country.

It is said that whoever controls the media, controls the mind. When information is not shared, many suspect wrong doings in the system. Information is power. It can make or break a society.