About Government and Media

As in all democratic societies, Bhutanese people are becoming more vocal. But as all healthy societies should ask, what is the nature and quality of our discourse? 
Let us look at a current issue in Bhutan. While there are many things happening around the world which is being pushed towards a world war, we are talking about two foresters who have lost their jobs. For Bhutan, every citizen is important and it is reassuring that our society does not forget them. 
But it is equally important that we get our perspective right. In this day of social media it is all too tempting to go public, into the “court of public opinion” and fight issues with emotions rather than facts. We have seen this happen, it is happening now, and it will continue to happen. So how do we deal with such issues?
First of all, the Bhutanese media must tell real the story. On BBS, we saw two women foresters claim that they were unfairly transferred to remote places. We did not get a clear picture of why this happened and, more important, evidence of why it was unfair. A Kuensel headline told us that the two foresters were “compulsorily retired” for talking to the media. This raises blaring questions that need to be answered. 
Governments have been unable to convince civil servants that they can be of better service in rural places where people struggle. This includes foresters, teachers, health workers, administrative staff, in fact all essential services. Thimphu’s lights are bright and the urban drift is strong. Hopefully the government, with a renewed spirit of making “difficult decisions”, will deal with this more effectively. We are yet to see this happen, but these are early days. 
The new tone of Bhutanese discourse is unnecessarily harsh. The ministry’s internal notifications warning officials not to disclose information without clearance not only leaked (surprise, surprise) but the letters that “compulsorily retired” the foresters did sound like they were being punished more for talking to media than breaching civil service codes. And it came at a time when the RCSC had just warned all government organisations not to discuss other major activities taking place in a process of civil service reform. 
The media obviously felt targeted. But neither was the journalists’ association’s tone very journalistic when it “condemned” the government action. In many countries around the world, journalists use strong language because their politics is loud. Bhutanese democracy shows signs of global political trends but the media can actually influence the discourse to be less confrontational. Yes, journalists must help uphold the Constitution and defend the rights of the people but, in our culture, humility is often best appreciated and much more effective.
There are real issues. Was the ministry’s decision in breach of the Constitutional right to freedom of expression? This would mean that the BCSR, which has been quoted, is wrong to prevent civil servants from speaking to the press. But we must acknowledge that all organisations, public or private, do maintain codes when it comes to publicity. Neither does there seem to be complete harmony within the ministry either. If politicians and bureaucrats spar, the media have to understand the nuances. 
The Bhutanese media needs to be far more professional than it is, in informing the public. We want insights, not quotes. And, as social media has a tendency to dominate the scene, social media users must also remember that there are many forces at play. We are saying on social media what we have always been saying about each other. 
The bottom line is, let us all speak more clearly, listen more carefully, and think more critically. 
Besides a crippling global pandemic, Bhutan is currently tackling historic political, economy and socio-cultural change. As seductive as social media is, and as sympathetic as we are to human emotions, let us be alert and alive in an era when history is being written, with guidance from the Throne. 

Dasho Kinley Dorji