Information and communications ministry’s circular, stamped confidential,directing a department to stop giving advertisement to The Bhutanese has raised a fundamental question if the government is attempting to gag critical media houses by cutting off its lifeline – ads
A confidential circular issued by the Ministry of Information and Communications (MOIC) directing a department under its wing not to entertain any advertisement to the biweekly newspaper, The Bhutanese, has stirred a controversy.
The chief executive officer of the newspaper, Tenzing Lamsang, has called such a move by the ministry as a vendetta campaign against The Bhutanese for running critical investigative stories on the government.
““The government is trying to get back at me as a media professional for my earlier works – Gyelpozhing land grab, health ministry procurement scam, and Bhutan lottery scam,” he said. “It is being done to silence us and also to send a message to other media on the consequences of challenging the government.”
The information and communications minister, Lyonpo Nandalal Rai clarified that the circular was fallout of a communication lapse between him and his subordinate who drafted the circular.
The circular, stamped confidential, was issued by MOIC’s officiating chief administrative officer Karma Tenzin on April 02.
The circular states, “We would like to inform your Department not to entertain any advertisement, announcement, notification, circular etc to the media “The Bhutanese” till the ministry issues further directives.”
The circular also states that this is as per the instructions conveyed by the MOIC minister.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Lyonpo Nandalal Rai explained,“It was a caution taken after the Ministry of Finance directed us to reduce expenditure on advertisements. I was talking in the context of the Bhutanese media and my official interpreted it as “The Bhutanese” newspaper and it happens that the paper’s name is The Bhutanese.”
The minister further said that they realized the error even before the circular became effective and withdrew it within two to three days.
The officiating chief administrative officer who signed the circular admitted the mistake. “It was my mistake that I misunderstood the minister,” said Karma Tenzin. “We acknowledged the mistake immediately.”
“The circular was not even implemented,” said the head of media and relations division, DawaPenjor. “It was a clear case of miscommunication.”
The chief executive officer of The Bhutanese, Tenzing Lamsang, however refused to buy the explanation. “It is obvious Karma Tenzin is covering up for his ministry and is being used as a scapegoat,” said Tenzing Lamsang.
“The finance ministry’s circular to cut cost was issued on June 11 while the MoIC circular was drafted long back in April,” he said.
Tenzing Lamsang also argued that no government circular is marked confidential. “Its confidentiality marks its intent. It has been confirmed by officials in the ministry that the circular was in effect from day one and there is no question of miscommunication,” he said. “Even if it was miscommunication why would it say to stop ads to all Bhutanese media.The Ministry of Finance has never said that advertising should be completely stopped.”
While supporting the advertisement policy and guidelines streamlining reach and content, he said that the government on a daily basis has been targeting The Bhutanese directly and indirectly ever since the newspaper came in the market.
“It is unfortunate the same ministry responsible for the growth of a media is doing this and a circular like this does not inspire any confidence in the ministry,” said Tenzing Lamsang, adding that even the cabinet made attempts to delay the license earlier.
He also claimed that the paper’s revenue has fallen drastically after the circular was issued. The newspaper made Nu 800, 000 in March from advertisements, which dropped to Nu 100, 000 in July.
“Other nine ministries have stopped giving us ads simultaneously. I am told similar directives have been made verbally to other ministries,” said the CEO. “It is apparent that we have been blacklisted,”
The Bhutanese is planning to file an official complaint to the Journalist Association of Bhutan and also considering to report it to the Anti Corruption Commission.
“It is clear case of policy corruption,” said Tenzing Lamsang.
Meanwhile the secretary of the ministry, Dasho Kinley Dorji, did not comment stating that the minister clarified the issue. “It was between the minister and the administration officer, I wasn’t here when it was discussed,” he said.