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Press needs to be even more free: PM

“Don’t be malicious. Report but don’t hurt people…If you get it wrong, apologise and do it sincerely.”

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay spoke at length on ethical and responsible journalism to more than 100 hundred journalists gathered to observe the World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

He said he felt good that Bhutan jumped 10 places to 84th position in the World Press Freedom index ranking. He said that the trend was good because Bhutan had earlier jumped from 104 to 94.

The jump in the ranking is cause for celebration but the media has to be clear if the ranking is accurate or else start acting on improving it, he said. “While we need to do more, our press needs to be even more free and your work should be more appreciated and safer.”

He said the media landscape is not good with too many newspapers, too few stories and readers. The private sector is weak and doesn’t believe in advertising, which is why the media is not sustainable.

To make matters worse, there isn’t enough sensationalism in terms of corruption, misbehaviour, and in terms of making wrong policies, he said.

This, he said, meant that the state of the media landscape is that much more dire. Journalists’ Association of Bhutan and Media Owners’ Association each submitted five points to the government, which are with the information and communications ministry.

Lyonchoen said he is surprised that many in the media are almost denouncing the ranking as media practitioners misinterpreted press freedom with that of media industry’s sustainability issues and the high attrition rates.

He said the freedom of media is very important for democracy. “We cannot allow political leaders to start thinking of corruption as an entitlement.” The politicians cannot be allowed to consolidate power and money, not abide by the Constitution, and not be accountable, Lyonchoen said. “I want to encourage you to exercise the freedom that you have.”

The media landscape is not good and is not 84 out of 180 countries, but press freedom is, he said, and urged journalists who don’t feel there is media freedom to take it up with their management or with the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority. “If it is any one in the government or civil servant trying to bully or intimidate you, tell me. Unless I know I can’t investigate.”

He said that it was an appeal, not just an offer. Should a journalist feel the Prime Minister is misbehaving, BICMA or Anti-Corruption Commission should be asked to investigate.

However, the danger with government involvement in strengthening media with handouts is that while strengthening the media, it might infringe the freedom of the press.

“Don’t let the government give with one hand and take with another,” he said.

The third annual journalism award saw only 58 entries for 22 categories for newspaper, television and radio. The Prime Minister pledged to help double the entries for the awards and make the prizes more attractive in the future.

Tshering Palden

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