’The government is open and willing to accommodate interventions’

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The minister for information and communications, Karma Donnen Wangdi, talks to Business Bhutan reporter Dechen Dolkar on the World Press Freedom day and the media in Bhutan.

Q. Bhutan’s press freedom ranking has improved to 80 from 94 last year. What could be the possible reasons for the improvement?

A. I am happy that Bhutan has had her best Press Ranking this year. Bhutan managed to climb by 14 places at 80th position compared to 94th position in 2017. The Reporters Without Borders has been publishing the index every year since 2002 and has received a number of awards. I believe the press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders is compiled based on the degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries and is determined by pooling the responses of experts to their questionnaire.

Each question in the questionnaire used by Reporters Without Borders to assess the level of press freedom of a country is apparently linked to indicators, one of which is pluralism which measures the degree to which opinions are represented in the media. Pluralism may have been assessed to have developed in Bhutan, mainly evidenced by the balanced coverage of the campaigns during the primary and general election rounds in 2018. This could be one of the possible reasons for the improvement in rank.

The other reason for Bhutan’s improvement could be due to the changes in the ranking of other countries.

Q. Five private newspapers have shut down, mainly because of financial issues. How is the government planning to support the private media?

A. The level of freedom of media in Bhutan continues to prevail. But it should be acknowledged that it was never alarming at any point of time.

Q. Do you think that the freedom of media in country has really improved?

A. The governments in the past have provided assistance in the form of capacity building, content development grants, printing subsidy, financial support to establish Journalists Association of Bhutan (Bhutan) and the press club, financial support for holding/celebrating Annual Journalism events.

The current government intends to continue providing these assistance and is open and willing to accommodate interventions which are feasible and possible.

Given Bhutan’s limited advertising market, mainly dominated by government advertising, it is recommended that the private newspapers develop marketing and advertising strategies to entice private companies and corporate houses, both in-country and abroad. Since the placement of advertisement are left to individual government agencies based on the circulation, reach of media houses, their competitive pricing and frequency of the newspapers, the newspapers are also recommended to work on circulation and pricing of their newspapers.

The Circulation Audit Report 2016 also found that some of the publishers were not collecting their billed amount from their agents distributing their papers. Therefore, the print media houses needs to make effort in collecting their accounts receivables. The other option the private newspapers could explore is cost-sharing mechanisms such as common facilities for offices/printing to cut down overhead costs.

Q. What changes will the government bring about in the media that the previous two governments failed to do?

A. The government does not have any comments on the past two governments.

On 27 March 2019, the government met with the proprietors and representatives of private newspapers and provided an opportunity to present their issues and challenges. The government is open and willing to accommodate interventions which are feasible and possible.

Q. What are the project pipelines for the media for next five years?

A. In the 12th FY Plan, a total of 110 slots have been approved in the Critical Skills HRD for the media sector. Further, a total of 7 ex-country long-term trainings, 30 diploma trainings, and over 40 short-term trainings has been approved in the master plan. In addition, there are also 50 slots for long-term training and 165 slots for short-term training which are applicable to all sectors including the media sector.

The government will continue to provide the Content Development Grant to the private newspapers as support for covering local content that better informs the public and increases coverage of rural issues and topics that have not been covered. The printing subsidy to the private newspapers will be provided in line with government directives.

“Given Bhutan’s limited advertising market, mainly dominated by government advertising, it is recommended that the private newspapers develop marketing and advertising strategies to entice private companies and corporate houses, both in-country and abroad.”

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