The Election Commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) media spokesperson, Phub Dorji, who is also the head of civic and electoral training department, in a live interview with the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) yesterday, said the media arbitrators did not exert any pressure on the private newspaper, The Journalist, to take action against the editor.

The Journalist published a profile of a NC candidate in Trashigang on March 4 after the commission has verbally communicated to the media to not publish profiles on NC aspirants.

“By the time the media arbitrators called the concerned media house and asked how it happened, the media house reported that the media house made a mistake and they have already taken action,” Phub Dorji said. “Media arbitrator only asked the media house how this happened despite ECB’s notification.”

The spokesperson’s statement however, contradicts the letter the media arbitrator sent to The Journalist on March 8 which states, “Although you have fully cooperated with the office of the media arbitrator in its investigation, and in fact apologised and tried your best to retract the wrongdoing to minimise the impact the article would have on the public, we would like to reiterate not to publish such articles in your future editions.”

The letter ends with the statement, “As promised by you, we are awaiting action taken report of the media house against the election norms of the Election Commission of Bhutan.”

The Journalist responded to the office of the media arbitrator on March 12 with an action taken report, which included the suspension of the editor.

The media arbitrators had also told Kuensel editors earlier that they have asked a media house to take action against the reporter and the managing editor.

Phub Dorji said the media arbitrator’s office is established to monitor election coverage by media houses. “It is a neutral body and the arbitrator is guided by the Media Coverage of Election Rules and Regulations of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2018.”

He said media arbitrators are selected based on the particular department or division’s reach. “Media arbitrators have to ensure free and fair elections and level playing field to all candidates.”

Phub Dorji said media arbitrator would file the findings if such incidences occur and forward it to the commission for decision.

He also claimed that the Commission consulted media houses while drafting the Media Coverage of Election Rules and Regulations of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2018 by forwarding it to all relevant agencies. “ECB has three Acts and about 60 rules and regulations. When we draft it, we send it to the concerned stakeholders for their comments and feedback for further improvement,” he said. “I have no doubt in saying all these rules were drafted in consultation.”

Media professionals, however, claim that they were not consulted and did not receive any information for feedback on the rules.

It was learnt from ECB officials that the rules and regulations existed since 2008 but like in the previous elections, it was just revised in 2018 after adding few clauses.

Tashi Dema