Namita Bhandare, Jai Arjun Singh, Tshering Tobgay and Siok Sian Pek Dorji
Namita Bhandare from Thimphu on Day 3 of Bhutan’s first-ever literary festival:
Kinley Dorji, Secretary in the ministry of Information, points out that the main competitors of newspapers in Bhutan are not television, but word-of-mouth rumour mongering.
“Bhutan is a small country,” he says to me over drinks the previous night. “Here we not only know who is sleeping with whom, but also who will be sleeping with whom.”
At last count, Bhutan had six newspapers, five radio stations and one television station. Earlier at a reception, I am introduced to Sherpem, an attractive Bhutanese woman who has a degree in journalism from Columbia University. She is, I am told, ‘the Barkha Dutt of Bhutan’.
Dorji has also studied journalism in the United States. “I came back with a journalism degree,” says the Stanford University alum, “But no newspaper to work for.” So, he did the next best thing: he started his own paper, Kuensel.
From playing editor, Dorji is currently hammering out his country’s media policy. His point of view is that it is the government’s responsibility to develop a professional media industry. The big concern is international media. Until 1999, there was no television, now over 40 channels beam into Bhutanese homes. At the time when TV was first introduced, the role model for most young Bhutanese men was the King. Today it is Shah Rukh Khan and 50 Cent, says Dorji.
How do you fit the concept of gross national happiness into this nascent media world? By having media awards that focus not so much on the top breaking stories as much as stories that best present culture or focus on good governance or the environment.
Dorji has his work cut out; not a moment to lose. Bhutan is laying fibre optic lines from Thimphu to its 20 districts, connecting the country by broadband. Freedom of expression and the right to information is guaranteed by the country’s newly adopted Constitution. Over 2,000 citizens engage actively in online discussions and there are 18,000 registered internet users in this country of 634,982 people; 60 per cent survive on subsistence farming, 25 per cent live below the poverty line. Incidentally, Siok Sian Dorji who heads Bhutan’s Centre for Media and Democracy, points out that half the population has cell phones.
Continue reading ‘Mountain Echoes Day 3: Media and happiness’