Every time there is a major news event, social media goes wild. There is demand for more details. Curious readers blame the mainstream media for lack of details. Some even accuse the media of colluding with officials, agencies and censoring critical information.
Others dig into the relationship between the head of the organisation and those being reported in news. Some easily brand the reporters as lazy or incompetent.
Reporters hanging around offices and businesses are seen as nosy irritant people, and often loathed unless they were called to cover an inauguration or a handing-over ceremony. Officials try to convince reporters that the issue in question is either sensitive or officials are not ready to talk.
Then often there are internal memos and word-of-mouth instructions not to share information with the media.
If those with information are not allowed to talk, the spokespersons in government agencies are mere appointees to fix interviews and receive e-mail or faxed questions.
Reporters are increasingly feeling the pressure as officials don’t want to talk on even simple matters such as vaccines, school meals or nutrition requirements of children fearing consequences from bosses. If the subject is a major public concern, all lips are sealed.
Media perform the critical role of keeping the masses informed. When reporters are denied information, the immediate danger is that the people could be misinformed. Speculation and gossip become rife. Nothing can have more detrimental consequences than this.
Preventing officials from talking to the media is nothing new. It happens every day and everywhere. Sometimes officials with information or who talk to the media are reprimanded if not blacklisted for revealing information that their bosses want it hidden.
But it shows that the practice has become deeply entrenched in the system. Almost every agency has someone who has become a victim.
From experience, it is people with nothing to lose who are vocal when raising issues or criticising policies. Despite all the shortcomings, the media in Bhutan is trying to fulfil their role.
It is not to deny the fact that most reporters have the contact numbers and can call the Prime Minister or his ministers at odd hours for information or clarification. But beyond that, it is a different story.
Ensuring access to information and a transparent system can, in the long run, boost the confidence of the citizenry in the system and promote accountability and trust.
The independent media will not only enable the masses to have access to correct information, but it will also be helpful to the government to reach the masses more effectively.
It is good to know that information is not for the media, it is for the people. If media is denied information, people are deprived of it too.