The Cabinet decision to introduce a tendering system for advertisements for privately owned newspapers have not been agreed to by the papers, an information and communications ministry (MoIC) official said.

The idea was one of the measures the Cabinet took on January 9 meeting to support private newspapers following the five-point petition the Media Association of Bhutan and Journalists Association of Bhutan submitted last year.

The media association had petitioned the Cabinet that advertisement be given to at least to four more private media houses in addition to what is currently given to BBS and Kuensel.     

The government directed MoIC to look at the possibility of introducing a tender system for awarding advertisements to private newspapers with a set of criteria such as circulation, reach, pricing, and other factors.

“Alternatively, MoIC should work at enabling a system of collecting the price from media houses and giving it to agencies so that agencies can opt for media houses that they prefer,” the directive stated.

Cabinet secretary Kinzang Wangdi conveyed the directives through a letter to the MoIC secretary on February 26 this year.

The Department of Information and Media (DoIM) director, Rinchen Dorji, said the ministry designed a tendering system as per the procurement rules.

“We held consultation meetings with the private media houses but most of them chose not to opt for this system,” he said. “If that system was adopted, the advertisement situation could be even worse for the private media.”

The tendering system had criteria such as the number of copies circulated and reach of the newspaper.

“As directed, we also collected information on the advertisement rates from the media houses and shared it with all the ministries,” Rinchen Dorji said, adding that it was up to the ministries to decide.

The 2016 draft advertisement policy’s section 3.5 states that government agencies shall place advertisements or purchase advertising space or time in an appropriate medium that ensures the reach of the government messages to the audience that the advertisement seeks to inform.

“Government advertisements are not intended in any way to be a form of financial subsidy to any particular media,” the policy states.

The other four points in the petition requested soft loans, printing subsidy, increase government grants to private media; seed fund request for professional development, sustainability of JAB and establishment of a press club.

The Cabinet has approved to support 50 percent of the printing cost to a maximum of 1,000 copies a month for a period of two years.

The subsidy amounts to Nu 2.725 million (M) annually. The finance ministry is directed to instruct Bhutan Media Foundation to decide on the printing house.

On April 5 the MoIC secretary Dasho Karma W Penjor wrote to the finance secretary to operationalise the printing subsidy.

The government has also approved to provide additional Nu 2M annually in the 12th Plan under the budget head ‘Support to media enterprise’ to be used for capacity and content development. The Cabinet directed MoIC to use the fund prudently.

MoIC has also been asked to discuss with labour ministry whether some trainings for journalists could be provided. The ministry is directed to see if government has provided budget for the establishment of a press club.

“An amount of Nu 0.5M would be provided only if the government has not provided to establish a Press Club earlier,” the Cabinet secretary’s letter said.

The government, however, did not approve the request to provide soft loans to private media houses.

“It was ascertained by the Ministry of Finance that media houses do not qualify for a loan from Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Ltd,” the Cabinet secretary’s letter to MoIC secretary conveying the government’s decision stated.

 Tshering Palden