Fifty years ago today, Kuensel’s first English edition as a government bulletin was published.
The publication was erratic. But it was the beginning of documenting in print the changes in the country. It heralded Bhutan’s foray into the age of information and the role of print media to bridge communication between the government and the people. The country always had the prayer flags, festivals and dances to inform the people but it decided to go beyond. It looked forward and, half a century later, today, we mark the anniversary of the concept of print media in the country.
We look back to see how far we have come. In terms of news, a lot has changed in the last 50 years and, in many ways, a lot has not. The visit of Indian government officials and political officers to Bhutan received as much space and priority then, as it does today, signifying the importance of the relationship between the two countries. Then, it was news when Bhutanese went abroad for studies and on study tours. Today, it is about students who come in conflict with law.
Athletic meets of schools, transfer of civil servants and marriage of senior government officials, which today are shared on social media made it to the bulletin then. Tshechus and dromches have become “picture stories” today and considered more of a holiday and a tourist attraction than a festival for the community to get together.
These stories narrate the changes Bhutan and its people have gone through over the last five decades. The country is more connected then it ever was and its challenging terrain does not stop and delay information from being shared. Then, the runners carried information packages including Kuensel issues. Today, the same and more are available instantly and across the globe even though hard copies of the paper are still transported on public transport. An accident without injuries or death is not reported even as a brief. We have become a society that expresses our solidarity through emoticons and condolences with RIP on social media.
Issues of corruption, drugs, crime and misuse of authority get more attention in the pages of the print media than stories of invisible communities that are left on their own in remote corners of the country. Posts and discussions on social media, posted anonymously tend to incite hate speech more than contributing productively to a discourse.
It is at times like this that we ask if the people have developed as much as the country has. We have become a literate society that doesn’t question the purpose of education. We call our youth the future but do little to address the menace of drugs. We abandon the elderlies and offer no apology for disrespecting the sanctity of the Parliament sessions by calling elected representatives names.
And then we move on, because the pace of the information age demands so. What’s news now is not news the next minute. Yet, the story of Bhutan gets told every second.