What is the role of media in a democratic society?
However, to do these things the media must be
It must be strong
Reflect the diverse views of the people across the country
And be financially sustainable.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in Bhutab
The importance of newspapers in the transition to democracy cannot be over emphasised
Despite growing popularity and increasing readership. Private newspapers are struggling to survive and struggling serve democracy. Let’s find out why?
Tokyo. Kuala Lumpur. New York and Thimphu. Can anyone spot the odd one out?
Unlike most other countries, Bhutan lacks a substantial commercial advertising market.
Therefore the media are forced to rely on the government for between 80-90% of their advertising revenue. This situation is unlike any other country in the world
Needless to say, editorial independence is an enormous challenge and self censorship is rife with every newspaper fishing from the same shallow pond and desperately competing for a share of the government’s advertising budget in order to survive.
As more and more media houses enter the market, each newspaper’s share of the advertising budget becomes smaller and smaller.
Furthermore, because of the desperation to secure ads, advertisers exert an enormous amount of influence over the media… As stated by one editor in the ““Advertisers can dictate content….People do play the ad card. Not just from the private sector but from the government also…..”
Another former editor expressed his frustration with the interference of commercial interests stating that “Business interests interfere in the newsroom…..We cannot run on an empty stomach”
Although the government is currently developing a policy to regulate the distribution of government advertisements, there is no indication of when this policy will be implemented. Furthermore, there has been huge controversy over the proposed clauses including the designation of advertisements based on reach, circulation and a possible evaluation of content against the pillars of Gross National Happiness.
Challenge two – election advertising
Without a clear advertising policy, publicly funded campaign advertisements are being distributed in a way that is detrimental to both the public and the media. Let’s take a look at what happened in 2008 in the lead up to Bhutan’s first democratic election. After private negotioations, both political parties signed a contract which gave just one newspaper the rights to publish candidate profiles.
The publication in question was not published in Dzongkha, had limited reach and limited readership.
Bhutan Observer saw the profiles as public information that was essential to an informed electorate and offered to publish the profiles for free. However even this was restricted under the contract
However 2 years later, the same mistakes are still being made
In 2010 the local government elections occurred. The National Election Comission were in charge of distributing ads amongst the Bhutanese media. The nECstated that their mandate was simply to distribute the advertisements and they were not concerned with where tGNhe advertisements reached. Consequently, local government Advertisements were not even distributed to the localities where the elections were occurring.
Challenge 3 – Dzongkha publications and the dzongkha mandate.
According to government policy, newspapers are required to produce a dzongkha publication. This policy is designed to protect Bhutan’s unique culture and promote the national language.
While other newspapers offer two page Dzongkha inserts, simply to fulfill the government mandate, Bhutan Observer publishes a six page Dzongkha edition – Druk Nelug
The Observer believes that the media should cater to the rural 80% of our population, who have little use knowledge of English, and NOT just to the urban elite 20% of our population. However, Despite the government mandate, there is almost no support for Dzongkha publications through Dzongkha advertisements.
Furthermore, the enforcement of the Dzongkha mandate has been inconsistent and this has been detrimental to the sustainability of the Observer The first private newspaper was given a grace period of one year before enforcement of the Dzongkha mandateYet this grace period was not extended when the Bhutan Observer launched as the second private newspaper.A one year grace period was then extended to the 3rd private newspaper launched in BhutanThis has resulted in an uneven economic playing fieldand undermined the competitiveness of the Observer who have invested heavily in a Dzongkha publication.
After several attempts to sustain Druk Nelug the Observer was forced to temporarily suspend the publication. for two months in 2007 to prevent the collapse of the newspaper. After threats of a license suspension, Druk Nelug relaunched as a downsized ? page publication. Bhutan Observer is committed to producing a quality Dzongkha publication which serves the needs of the rural non-English speaking population however without external support this venture is unsustainable.
Challenge 4 – Rural distribution
No newspaper will deny that There are huge financial and logistical challenges associated with distribution of newspapers to rural areas.
As highlighted in ??? “Distribution of newspapers isn’t easy in a country like Bhutan with its rugged geographical topography and a poor infrastructural network system across the country.” The importance of reaching rural and isolated regions of Bhutan is enormous… unfortunately so are the costs and unless this situation changes, the media will become urban centric.
Unless we can facilitate the distribution of media to rural areas, the media will continue the pattern of development as a “Thimphu-centric” media
Furthermore,until the costs of infrastructure such as printing, can achieve economies of scale, newspapers will continue to suffer financially.
Challenge 5 – Lack of skilled media personnel.
Bhutan faces a chronic shortage of skilled media personnelThe government supports the media through paid training programs abroad. However, with the media already struggling with a shortage of qualified staff, it is difficult and costly to excuse staff for the duration of training programs. The private media houses must bear the cost of replacing absent staff while also paying the salary of the staff undergoing training.
Until a thriving media can be developed and journalism is seen as a secure and respectable profession, Newspapers will be forced to compromise on quality, content and vision.
Bhutan Observer believes that the Bhutanese print media is not a dying industry but merely a struggling one that needs non-partisan support during this challenging period of development. Bhutan Observer is comitted to effective
As the country’s
Bhutan Observer has facilitated the transition from monarchy to democracy.
Challenges of the print media in Bhutan
THE TRULY BHUTANESE NEWSPAPER<br />presents….<br />
“The media is absolutely essentialto the functioning of a democracy” <br />Amy Goodman<br />
"A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessityin a great society.”<br /> Walter Lippman<br />
“..it is the media that must <br />foster transparency and accountability<br />in government and create a responsible public sector.”<br /> Siok Sian Pek and Kinley Dorji in The Bhutanese Media: In the service of the public<br />
“…media forms the bridgebetween the people and the ruling government.”<br />AchyutBhandari in ‘The media must be a democratiser’, DrukpaJanuary 2011. <br />
CHALLENGES OF THE PRINT MEDIA<br />ADVERTISING<br />
“After a give year-spurt of dizzying growth, what now seems to be stifling the Bhutanese media? Ask around and you get one common response – ‘advertisements.’”<br /> – Mitra Raj, ‘Advertise This’, Drukpa, January 2011. <br />
“Distribution of newspapers isn’t easy in a country like Bhutan with its rugged geographical topography and a poor infrastructural network system across the country.” <br />Media Development Assessment 2010<br />
<ul><li>THIMPHU</li></li></ul><li>“While the cost incurred to get the papers printed (of quality and on time) is a huge challenge for the papers, there are other factors like access to a press of superior quality is yet to come to the market”<br />Media Development Assessment 2010<br />
CHALLENGES OF THE PRINT MEDIA<br />LACK OF SKILLED PERSONNEL<br />