(Bhutan Prime Minister at the monthly Cabinet press meet in Thimphu. Photo Courtesy: Bhutan Observer)
There were times in Bhutan when reporters didn’t dare to look into the eyes of a senior official while interviewing for a story. That was six years back when the country had only one weekly newspaper, the government-run Kuensel.
Life was easy for reporters. (It was one of the best written papers in the region, though no one really noticed.) As a former scribe with Kuensel recalled, one could take the liberty to drive up to Dochula, a mountain pass 30 kilometres away from capital Thimphu, to think of a lede, return to the office and file one story for the week. But today, Bhutan has 11 English newspapers, including its first broadsheet, The Bhutanese, launched last week.
This competition has really fueled competition among journalists who are grilled in newsrooms for missing stories to other papers. Some say quality has suffered in the rat-race to get the story, people complain of typos, bloopers and misquotes. But, despite all flaws, the proliferation of newspapers and competition has only benefited the country’s young democracy. It has made leaders more responsible, readers opinionated, and the public space robust.
The first democratic government led by its multi-lingual poet-statesman-philosopher prime minister, Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinley, opened itself to media scrutiny like no other governments around. The whole cabinet meets journalists once in a month where there is a volley of tough questions from scribes, lots of laughter, and loads of advice on how to practice proper journalism.
All ministers including the prime minister are accessible on their mobile phones. The prime minister handles his Facebook account himself and ‘likes’ almost everything written on his wall. The opposition leader interacts with people on twitter and his blog on a daily basis.
And journalists no more cover their mouths and keep their eyes down as they talk to ministers. The photograph, which captures the new relation with the government and the media, was shot at the Cabinet’s monthly Meet the Press yesterday. Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinley patiently responds to a reporter who ‘dared’ to lean over the desk with her notepad on it.