Although it could be dismissed as a generalisation, it has always been said that Bhutanese are good at speculating. If that is not enough, the rumour and gossip mills are as active as ever.

Going by the latest on the grapevine, we have already identified an eminent person to the National Council and a dzongdag for Pemagatshel, while speculation is rife that there is to be a lot of reshuffling. There are some vacant posts after the recent appointment of officials to the constitutional offices. Therefore such guesswork is only to be expected.

But it is this gossip that could one day cause damage and lead to defamation cases. As it is a favourite pastime still among many Bhutanese, it cannot be stopped. What is alarming more than the gossip itself is how it can get people worked up. At gatherings, whether promotions or weddings, farewell or welcome parties, gossip, which we call shegtog, rules. Sometimes, it is cooked up on the spot to please a friend or an official in a higher post. And Bhutanese are often made to believe, because we say there will be no smoke without a fire being built!

The internet has taken the gossip and rumour culture to a higher level. Hidden behind the screen, anybody can start anything. It is and will be difficult to control what is circulating on the worldwide web. To the Bhutanese convenience, we have narrowed it down to Facebook pages and blogs.

Unfortunately, quality discussions or exchanges have been rare. Like a former senior journalist said, the internet had just provided Bhutanese an advanced platform to gossip on. It is sad to learn that many tend to believe, or at least follow with interest, what is published on the internet. Mainstream media is always accused of not being bold enough to pick up on these issues, which means the idle gossip discussed there. When they do follow up, quite often, it turns out to be mere surmise or an expression of hatred rising out of vested interest.

What is more surprising is that the oral tradition is still strong, at all levels of society. Many fail to differentiate a constructive feedback from a vindictive shegtog.

Journalists are always advised to analyse when given a feedback, positive or negative. This is because it is important to know where the feedback is coming from. If they are told that they are doing a good job, this could be because the article agrees with their views and opinions. Similarly, a negative feedback could have reasons behind it.

If we have to get worked up, investigate or take action based on gossip or rumours, we will have no time left for real work. Gossip, rumour, libel and defamation have always been a part of society. It is difficult to kick old habits.