Democracy needs opinions and debates

We may have come to a time when we should give a deeper thought to the responsibilities of media and freedom of expression.

We have the Article 7 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2008 to refer to.

The sections of the Articles say that every Bhutanese must enjoy the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression and, not least, every Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to information.  And, “There shall be freedom of the press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information, including electronic.”

Then comes a notification from the Thimphu Thromde that says “any individual or media personnel wishing to avail information from the Thimphu Thromde is required to fill [in] a form and submit [it] to Media Relations Officer.”

This is not the first time the bureaucracy has been trying to disrupt the relations, vital as it is between media, government and public offices. We have weathered the storm.

If lessons are needed to understand why media and information is important, here they are:

Freedom of expression is Education. What everyone knows is that freedom of expression is not an absolute right. Media houses, as their mandate is upon them and exercise their duties in that knowledge, know all to well what is sensitive and should be left better unsaid.

We do not need Thimphu Thromde to tell us this.

Thromde administrations are an institution. The thrompon and the many functionaries are the elected representatives of the people. They owe it to the people, so, to at least answer their questions and concerns.

Media in Bhutan is not weak; they are being deliberately made thin and scrawny. And, this, despite the law that empowers the citizens to ask questions to public and government officials. What the civil servants and bureaucrats do not seem to understand is that informed citizens make stronger democracy.

Delving deep into this nitty-gritty isn’t even necessary, because we seem to have a system that looks at media and their responsibilities as a threat. CSOs and media professionals must rise to fight this evil game to the end.

For example, Thimphu Thromde says that information flow, sometimes unsympathetic to the institution, can be controlled by way of this notification. What this indicates is that the media is digging deep into the workings of the thromde administration and activities, as they do government and public entities and officials.

The press and media will not allow this to happen because the greater danger, in the long term,  is that access to information can be closed to them forever. As if access to information is not difficult already!

We cannot even ask the Thimphu Thromde why it came up with this senseless arrangement. For that, we, the people, have to fill [in] a form and wait.  And the wait, if it is convenient for the Thimphu Thromde, could extend to eternity.

Who’s the loser in the end?

The people, the Bhutanese citizens, who have the right to ask questions. What with political games, elections and name-dropping culture that is rampant, the nation and the people are on the verge of losing their rights and democracy altogether.

Thimphu Thromde’s attempt to restrict and reject the media and their roles smacks of something dangerous that could give rise to a society run by gangs of thieves who can dictate ways and norms as they wish.

The media will not let this happen.

The sooner the Thimphu Thromde revokes this rule, the better for the people, country, and the thromde itself. In a democracy, a culture of debate and honest discussion must be fostered.

Let this be here, in Bhutan, because a healthy democracy needs opinions, debates, and  questions.

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