The recent incidents related to the two civil servants has sparked some fire and the smoke is blinding a lot of people who has information and the mandate to share it with the public.
Civil servants can be fired for violating the Bhutan Civil Service Rules. The Rule is comprehensive and includes restricting civil servants from criticizing or posting hate messages against the agency they work for. It is a rule that is common everywhere. It is worse outside the civil service. Employees can be fired without benefits or explanations. There is a rule and whether we like it or not, it has to be followed.
However, the biggest concern is not understanding the rule or officials misinterpreting it and using it as an excuse to not share information with the public, through the media . The media do not see the recent confusion as a deliberate attempt to stifle the media. It is more of a lack of understanding of the media or the experience in dealing with the media.
The concern is when officials with information try to avoid media or sharing crucial information because of misunderstanding the rule or the notification. A week after the notification, more and more officials are using it as an excuse to avoid media.
What is more concerning is that officials are convinced that they are doing a favour to the media or the reporter by sharing information. Officials not happy with the media say they will not “give” information. Information is not a kidu to the media. It is the right of the people to know, question and demand for answers from policy makers whether elected leaders or bureaucrats. They are not doing a favour to the media by sharing information.
Two decades ago, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo delinked the media from the government recognizing the importance of the media, its professionalism and independence. If media representing the people have to beg or depend on the whims of officials for basic information, we are defeating the purpose of the Royal Kasho that decreed media to be independent of the government.
The other relevant question is the transparency. We are quick to say that transparency is one of the pillars of good governance but gagging the media is to say that our officials are unaware of the good governance they are trying to promote.
Government officials will use or misuse provisions of the civil service rule to hide information. It is not going to help anyone. The Bhutanese media is not as mature or critical as other media in the region. Only a few journalists ask hard questions. When answer are delayed because of bureaucratic procedures or from fear of repercussions, it will not help anyone. Social media is thriving because citizens resort to when restrained through rules. It is not a healthy trend as we know.
The BCSR section in question today is clear. It is not restricting civil servants to talk to media unless they criticise or undermine government policies. But it is misunderstood. A good example is not getting the RCSC legal expert to talk to media to elaborate the section.