Law firm to protect journalists through JAB

Bhutan Legal Solution (BLS) has teamed up with the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan (JAB) to provide legal advisory and services for Bhutanese journalists. The partnership between JAB and BLS was made possible under the auspices of UNESCO's Global Media Defence Fund. According to the Executive Director of JAB, Namgay Zam, JAB has no experiences in legal matters and the partnership with BLS will provide it the legal expertise that it lacks. The arrangement with the BLS will offer pro bono legal protection as well as assistance to journalists through the partnership. “Our lawyers at BLS understand what we need and are on the same page as us so I see us working together really well for the next one year,” said Namgay Zam. The Managing Partner of BLS, Kuenzang Choden Drukpa, said her firm is partnering with JAB to propagate the freedom of press. “We firmly believe in the freedom of press,” she said. “We are representing JAB as a part of social responsibility, and we assure to represent our clients to the last stage of appeal.” At this juncture, BLS has not been referred with enough cases to know about the legal issues surrounding JAB. “We are very observant and supportive of the freedom of press; it is one of the most important pillars of democracy – it is so important to be the part of this movement towards the freedom of press, and to wield freedom responsibly,” said Kuenzang Choden Drukpa. “I see journalists quoting laws accurately all the time. It is also important to get an expert legal opinion on whatever journalists are writing when writing on a legal matter like any other matters and also have feedbacks on their stories.” BLS had advised journalists to document the corroborating evidences, not just rely on one source despite the credibility, always fact-check and follow the journalists’ code of ethics at all times. “We can be most helpful to JAB by giving out a structured way to respond to legal issues, and also focus on a system to make sure that all reporting is accurate. We can also protect journalists if they are harassed, and advise journalists when in edgy situations,” said the BLS’ Managing Partner. The JAB has asked BLS to carry out two specific tasks – publish a legal handbook and introduce more lawyers who have the knowledge on media and media laws. JAB will also conduct seminars and workshops to sensitize journalists about prevalent laws, rules and become responsible reporters. JAB has no steady source of funds but it has assured the sustainability of the partnership. It is exploring ways to continue having a JAB legal arm even after the GMDF project expires. JAB will also extend legal services to non-member journalists for the duration of the project. Journalists in Bhutan are only familiar with the Penal Code, Acts, and the Constitution of Bhutan. “I think it would benefit us all to understand the machinery behind our laws, and we are not as well-versed in legal processes, terminologies, etc.,” said Namgay Zam. Puran Gurung, the editor of this paper – The Journalist - reported a case to JAB, the first one after JAB employed a lawyer in early 2021. He lodged a harassment case against a top executive of a private company. The Journalists’ Association (JAB) of Bhutan is a non-political and non-profit organisation formally launched in February 2012 and registered as a Mutual Benefit Civil Society Organisation under the Civil Society Organisations Act of Bhutan on 10 November 2014.