Elections: Officials from Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and journalists met in the capital yesterday to share their experiences and issues both the parties encountered in the recent local government (LG) elections.

According to ECB officials, returning officers (ROs) reported that journalists did not reach remote places and that media quoted  some of them wrong. ROs had reported that media were a hindrance for the election officials on the field.

However, journalists said that they would not have had to bother ROs frequently if there were systematic flow of information to the media.

Election officials said the main responsibility of ROs was to conduct election and that it was obvious that they would have been busy during the poll day. They said there are spokespersons in every dzongkhag and the headquarters.

The discussion was held as part of Learning From Experience programme, which election officials said has been institutionalised. The platform gives ECB opportunity to identify and address issues related to election process.

A senior reporter with Kuensel, Tashi Dema, who has extensively covered various elections, thanked ECB for providing the platform to share media person’s experiences on the field. She said that there was consensus among many reporters that obtaining information from returning officers was a difficult task on the poll day.

“ROs refused to share information saying that they had no approval from ECB,” she said. “We had a kind of feeling that we were conducting elections for the first time.”

Tashi Dema reported the election from Bumthang.

She said that there would be no point in sending reporters to the field if officials do not provide the required information. It is the responsibility of the media, she added, to inform the people.

“Elections should not only be fair, but must also appear to be conducted fairly, and that can be achieved by being open to media and providing information.”

Election Commissioner Deki Pema clarified that ECB does not bar any officials on election duty from disseminating information to media. However, she said that officials may not give “half-baked” information that could create confusion.

BBS anchor Tshewang echoed Tashi Dema’s concerns about the difficulties reporters go through on the field. “We pressurised reporters to send reports, but they were unable to get information from the field,” he said.

Tshewang said officials on the field should provide information to the media on a periodical basis so that there is no confusion. Reporters, he said, did not get enough support from officials on the filed and that BBS had to depend on the ECB website for information.

Kuensel reporter Tempa Wangdi, who covered election from Trashigang, suggested the ECB to frame guidelines for ROs for dissemination of information to media. He said it would be helpful for reporters if they are given some kind of refresher course on election coverage and the electoral laws before the election as many reporters covering election would be new to the job.

Reporters from private media said that it would be helpful for reporters if ECB provides them some funds for election coverage.

“If ECB provides us some money, we can reach rural areas for election coverage,” said Tshering, a Bhutan Today reporter.

MB Subba