Handbook for exiled journalists published

Published on Mar 06 2009 // Media Monitor

A new handbook for training journalists in remote and disadvantaged parts of South Asia is currently being printed in Nepal. It is the brainchild of T.P. Mishra, founding president of the Bhutan Chapter of the Bangladesh-based Third World Media Network. 

becoming_a_journalist2The book was originally aimed at the Bhutanese refugee journalists who work, unpaid, in the refugee camps in Nepal, but those behind it want it made available to all journalists working in exile. 

Media Helping Media has contributed a chapter on journalism and activism for the book. In the following question and answer session, we asked T.P. Mishra to explain his thinking behind the publication.

Q: Why did you decide to publish this book?

The book’s title is ‘Becoming a journalist in exile’, and I decided to publish it because I saw a need for a handbook on journalism for aspiring journalist living in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal. As the book developed it because clear to me that the book may also have a use in areas where media freedom in under threat. 

The book is designed to encourage a new generation of young people to become journalists. It also focuses on how journalism is practiced in the Bhutanese refugee camps, particularly in Nepal, based on the citizens’ right to information.    

Q: Who is the target audience for the book?

The focus for the book are Bhutanese journalists and other young people who want to highlight the plight of Bhutanese people who are deprived of their right to press freedom, despite Bhutan’s claimed to be moving towards democracy. Clearly, anyone involved in human rights and media freedom, including activists and other local, regional, national or international bodies, may also benefit from the book.

Another target for the book are the Bhutanese journalists working inside Bhutan. I think it will be impossible to distribute hardcopy of the book to them, because we are restricted from entering the country, but I will try my best to collect their e-mail addresses and send them an electronic copy. This will encourage them to work for the protection and promotion of public’s right to information. They have been suppressed from doing this by the state and live under an atmosphere of self-censorship, which limits their effectiveness greatly.

Q: How will the book be distributed and will those it is aimed at be able to afford it?

Unfortunately, because it is a publication produced by exiled journalist there are no publication houses available to help with the marketing and distribution. However, the publishers, the Bhutan Chapter of the Third World Media Network, with support from the Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) – Bhutan, will be involved in the distribution process. We aim to make it affordable for those it was written for. Exiled Bhutanese journalists and other interested Bhutanese refugee youths will be given access to the book free of charge because they have no income and are not able to afford to buy it.

Q: Has it been difficult to gather the right material, and who decided what should go into it?

TP Mishra explaining the thinking behind the book

TP Mishra explaining the thinking behind the book

 It has been a challenging and difficult task to gather the right material; however it has been enlightening and rewarding, too. Writing a book is extremely a tough task and this is my first experience of doing this, too. It has helped having a number of co-authors who have worked with me. I decided on what should go into the book because of my understanding of the needs of the target audience. Friends and colleagues, both local and international have helped, and all in a spirit of contributing their time, expertise and effort without any charge.

Q: Have you met any encouragement or opposition to this project?

I do not want to mantion names, but there have been people keen to prevent this effort to advance media freedom in Bhutan. Such people continually tried to discourage me, saying I should not waste my time writing such a book. However, I have had so many well wishers, friends and colleagues who have supported me whole heartedly and encouraged me along the way. I have even received encouragement from international human rights and media organizations and these have put any opposition into perspective.

Q: Will there be any training programmes to build on any interest generated by the book?

Of course I am committed to launch/organise such trainings; however, I think this is impossible due to lack of funds. If we become able to generate adequate funds, then training programmes will certainly be held, however, with the current financial situation, there is unlikely to be the funds to do this. Having said that, I am keen to seek such funding.

Q: How did you mange to afford to print the hardcopies of the book?

I received some financial assistance from Bhutanese refugees who are taking asylum in the USA, the Netherlands and Australia. This has helped me a lot thanks to them. Yet their assistance was not enough in itself. My brother Vidhyapati Mishra and I. P. Adhikari (president of APFA – Bhutan) will assist me personally to manage the other remaining costs needed to print the hardcopy.

Q: Will there be an online version?

It’s definite that the final copy of this book will appear online, most probably at www.apfanews.com. If I get funding I will create and operate a new site and will continue to update it with the similar materials. The audience will also have the  opportunity to share their views. If the development of website is not affordable, I will begin blogging. 

I like to take this opportunity to urge audiences, who can afford it, to buy the hardcopy of this book. This would help me come to them with another publication in the future.

Q: Have you any other publishing plans to follow on from this book?

Why not? I will come to audience with another book, probably revealing the status of oppressed Bhutanese press in in-depth, but I cannot exactly tell when would that be possible since it takes a lot of effort and is directly connected with money-matter. 

Q: What influenced your decision to do this?

As a student and new learner of journalism I have read a number of books on this discipline. I am aware of what the public’s right to information is. When I try relating it with the Bhutanese context, it’s awesome. People in Bhutan are long-suppressed from exercising their right to speech and expression. Thus, publication of materials, like this, would help lobby the international rights and media bodies to mount pressure on the regime to guarantee free press in the country. To answer your question in a sentence, it’s this situation that has compelled me to do this.

Q. But didn’t Bhutan become a two-party parliamentary democracy after elections in March 2008?

Democracy involves a wide variety of changes in the country; there will be good governance, press freedom will have to be guaranteed, citizen’s fundamental rights will have to be safeguarded. But these changes are yet to take place in Bhutan. The ‘democracy’ you are referring to is starved of media freedom – a tool to drive the government towards good governance. 

Q: What has inspired you in the past?

My first piece of journalism on the state of media in Bhutan, initially published by Nepal’s national daily The Rising Nepal, was reproduced on this site, Media Helping Media (MHM) . From the time MHM published my article, I thought I must keep writing about the media situation in Bhutan. The foundation on my part to be inspired started to be built primarily after MHM published my article.  

The approval from the headquarters of the Bangladesh-based Third World Media Network for the affiliation of the Bhutan Chapter, under my also stimulated me.   

Since then I was awarded the ‘Journalism of the Year Award 2006’ by the Bhutan Press Union, one of the media organizations voicing for free press in Bhutan from exile in Nepal, I thought more responsibilities was poured on my shoulder. The award included a merit certificate along with a cash prize of just 2500 Nepalese rupees (US $32), turned out to be the major source of inspiration.

Q: What are the particular training needs of the journalists you work with?

Self-studying has had to serve as the major tool for allowing young enthusiastic journalists to follow their ambition. Even access to internet facilities has largely remained restricted due to cost. 

Though journalism practice began inside Bhutanese refugee camps as early as 1990s, there are of accuracy and depth of knowledge. Basic training is a must. Though journalism practice began inside Bhutanese refugee camps as early as 1990s, there are of accuracy and depth of knowledge. Basic training is a must.

There are not many professional journalists in this Bhutanese refugee community, however a couple of hundred budding journalists are keen to learn, and it is they I want to help.  There is also a need for training in multimedia journalism for those journalists working online.

 Q: How do people living overseas pay for and get hold of a copy?

The book will be kept online, although those browsing the online version will be able to accessed all the full content. They will have a choice to either buy the electronic copy or they can buy the hardcopy through Pay Pal . Once again I request the audience to buy the copy since the fund we collect would be best-used to promote the public’s right to information.  


Footnote: T.P Mishra comes from a remote district of Bhutan. He fled the country for Nepal with his family when he was six years old. He is a graduate in journalism and mass communication, and has been a refugee camp-based correspondent for The Bhutan Reporter (TBR) monthly. He is now chief editor and publisher of TBR, working unpaid. He is also the founding president of the Bhutan Chapter of the Bangladesh-based Third World Media Network since 2006.

(Reproduced from Media Helping Media)