Writers: The need to redefine Bhutanese journalism and the rise of social media, were some of the topics of discussion in the second bloggers conference held at the Paro College of Education in Paro, yesterday.

Well known blogger, Passang “Passu” Tshering, who is a teacher and also the creator of the immensely popular “B-Bay” Facebook page, spoke about his experience with social media.

Speaking about B-Bay, which is one of the largest Bhutanese groups online, he explained how he had created the buying and selling group to eliminate the middle man. The group today has more than 53,300 members.

But the blogger said that he gets the most satisfaction when he sees people helping each other by posting recovered lost items like wallets and large sums of money.

Passang Tshering also pointed out how social media can be used to make money. He said that in a good month, he could make up to Nu 20,000 by pinning ads to the top of the B-Bay page.

But the blogger also revealed that his internet bill usually comes up to Nu 10,000 a month.

Passang Tshering maintains several other Facebook pages. One of them being the Bhutan Toilet Organisation which is looking to improve the conditions of toilets in the country.

The blogger explained that toilets in Bhutan are poorly maintained because cultural habits had not changed while the infrastructure had. “Bhutan is beautiful but our toilets are not,” he said, adding that by next month, the organisation hopes to “adopt” a number of public toilets in the country.

Another page maintained by the blogger is the Writers Association of Bhutan. He said that the group not only helps to market published authors but also is attempting to crowd source and get aspiring writers published. The group hopes to help publish its first book shortly.

Passang Tshering also spoke briefly about how he began writing his blog. He started off as an anonymous writer on public forums. However, after having his IP (internet protocol) address leaked by the host of a public forum to the organization he had criticized, he chose to open a blog under his own identity.

He likened anonymity to the mask worn by an atsara. While the mask provides boldness, it also allows the wearer to become more shameless, he said.

Today, PaSsu diary (passudiary.com), is the most visited Bhutanese blog with over a million hits. He also pointed out that because of his blog he was able to meet His Majesty The King and the Prime Minister, and also become acquainted with people he would have otherwise never have been able to meet.

An audience member, who had travelled all the way from Trongsa for the event, asked how Passang Tshering, given his popularity and large online following, ensured that his content is not blindly followed. The blogger said that besides attempting to ensure factual accuracy, he also asked himself, prior to posting, if he would regret what he had written later on, and to also mention in his posts that it was his personal opinion.

Related to anonymity, blogger and legal expert, Nima Dorji (opiniolegal.wordpress.com), spoke about defamation and how the law deals with it. A student in attendance asked him if criticizing government policy is defamation. The blogger said that if one feels strongly about an issue, then it should be said or written. He added that governments actually have no right to reputation but that the situation in Bhutan is different and that the government may not be as open. He said that governments should be open to criticism.

In relation, an audience member joked how civil servants are more fearful of what’s written about them on social media rather than being investigated by the ACC or the RAA.

Blogger and media specialist, Dorji Wangchuk (dorjiwangchuk.blogspot.com) provided his opinion of what model the traditional or mainstream media in Bhutan should adopt. He said that the Bhutanese media should adopt a Middle Path Journalism model based around GNH, with GNH meaning contentment.

The blogger said the western model is not suitable for Bhutan as it is derived from Western philosophy and individual oriented values such as rights, justice, equality, and liberty.

In Bhutan, he explained, values are more oriented towards the community, collectivism, compassion, and contentment, among others. He provided an example of how the Indian journalism model originates from anti-colonialism and therefore, is anti-establishment. He pointed out that as Bhutan had and has a benevolent government, the media and government should not always be on opposite sides but also working together.

However, the blogger pointed out that today the media in Bhutan is directionless, mostly negative and vicious. He said that Bhutanese media could be based on a framework of Bhutanese values rather than a western one that focuses on conflict, controversy, and commercialism.

Blogger and civil servant by profession, Karma Choden (karmachoden.wordpress.com), shared with the audience seven habits of highly effective people based on a best selling book by American author, Stephen Convey.

The event was moderated by National Council member Sangay Khandu (sangaykhandu.wordpress.com) who concluded by pointing out that such platforms are important as they contribute to public discourse and therefore can also influence policy making.

Speaking to Kuensel on behalf of the Community of Bhutanese Bloggers, Nawang P Phuntsho (nawangpenstar.com), said that he was impressed by the turnout at the conference. Around 70 people attended the event. He pointed out that it is likely that two conferences will be held in a year.

Gyalsten K Dorji