This week, Kuensel editorial titled “Misunderstanding the media” stated that “spokesperson still remains a joke, young journalist are dictated what to write, time media receives is when the newsmakers benefit, lengthy bureaucratic procedure and media have to wait if the Dasho is on tour.”

This shows bureaucrats still consider media as the government’s mouthpiece. Article 1(1) of the Constitution states: “Bhutan is sovereign, sovereign power belongs to the people of Bhutan.”  This echoes the true concept of democracy, government by the people, of the people and for the people.

Article 7(5) of our Constitution guarantees that “there shall be freedom of the press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information, including electronic.”  Freedom means the right or power to ask or express, not otherwise. It imposes the duty on the state to ensure these rights. Our government has already recognised the media as the fourth estate because of this reason. Media must act as a watchdog to “inform and alert the public about such undesirable phenomena in society as soon as the relevant information comes into their possession.”

Article 20 imposes the duty on the “government to provide good governance and promote an efficient civil administration based on the democratic values and principles.” Media must hold “government and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.” If media is dictated what to write or denied access to information, how can media perform these functions? Such practice will not only breed corruption and political tyranny but also shield bureaucracy from accountability. Many democracies have failed across the globe because of the same reason.

In a democracy, a government is merely an agent of the public and “must be responsible for their conduct there can be a few secrets.” The public has “every right to know every public act.” Government has no choice to restrict information but has the duty to disclose to media. Freedom of media is the rights of people in which the other fundamental rights such as right to information and freedom of speech and expression are ensured and effectively exercised.

The media has a special checking function, and “free press has a legitimate interest in reporting on and drawing the public’s attention to deficiencies in the operation of Government services, including possible illegal activities.”  This is because “in a democratic system the actions or omissions of the government must be subject to the close scrutiny not only of the legislative and judicial authorities” but also of the public through media.

A legal scholar said: “Journalists are distinctive facilitators for the democratic process to function without hindrance” but the media also has a duty to follow the “virtues of accuracy, honesty, truth, objectivity, fairness, balanced reporting, respect or autonomy of ordinary people.”

It is time our bureaucracy surrendered their ego. It is time to uphold the fundamental rights of media to build a vibrant and transparent bureaucratic system. Right of the media is the duty of the government.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

Sonam Tshering,

 Lawyer, Thimphu