Media must live up to the honor

Published on Jan 07 2012 // Media Monitor

The 104th National Day celebrations could not have been more pleasant to the 18 media houses in the country. His Majesty the King awarded the Order of Merit (Gold) to the Bhutanese media, in recognition of its vital role in informing the people, in encouraging debate and participation, for preserving the culture and tradition and for placing national interest above all else.

Although some might say it’s too early for the infant media to receive such a coveted national honor, the significance of the award cannot be sidelined either, lest it would be misunderstood as an overstatement of media’s roles and contributions.

The award is a symbolical gesture of appreciation from the throne for the contributions made by the media in shaping the country’s national conscience and contemporary values, and in promoting democratic culture. More importantly, it is also a reminder of the greater roles and responsibilities the media must continue to undertake in future. We must strive to excel and scale new heights and not to resort to the lowest common denominator. Media must live up to the honor.

Currently Bhutanese media is very young and growing, at least in numbers, at a speed that is only going to get dizzier with time. From just one national print and broadcast media, today we have a teeming number of media houses, often scrambling for crumbs to meet its daily ends.

The media is grappling with a host of challenges, mostly related to day-to-day sustainability, lack of experienced journalists, overheated competition, and sole dependence on government advertisement, among others. And despite that fact, still more newspapers are expected to hit the newsstands that will only make survival of media houses more competitive and difficult.

There are also fresh openings for private TV stations, with six television license applications already waiting approval from Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority. The launch of private TV will definitely add to media diversity but again the looming fear is that it will have to feed on the same advertisement pie.

At the end, what will happen is, the survival of the fittest and the smartest. Free market competition must result in media houses upping their ante, improving the quality of journalism, and expanding their reach to a wider audience.

However, this is not exactly happening or going by popular feedbacks, it is just the contrary. To certain extent, perhaps news quality is not up the expectation. Our young reporters and editors are not able to grasp certain issues. But we must not also fail to see the brighter side of the story. Now more than ever, readers have a plethora of choices.  It will take time for the media to come of age.

Also, if people are complaining, it only indicates that the level of media literacy and awareness is increasing. This bodes well for a democratic society that must engage in public discourses and point out flaws, even that of the media’s as well.

A popular joke on media professionals today is that nowhere in the world can a journalism student after few years become an editor but in Bhutan. This is true because there are no senior journalists at the helm, many of whom are either working abroad or in international organizations that pay fatter paychecks.

The media is young and it is learning by doing. Mistakes are bound to happen. But there must conscious efforts to separate journalism from business and politics. While sustainability is an issue, it should not contaminate the noble aspects of journalism.

Bhutanese media must diversify its income sources and venture into services that can bring in the money rather than depending on conventional advertisement income alone. For new comers, they must calculate the opportunity cost, risks and benefits before following the herd.

This is a grim situation where the media is thrown right in. The government has been so far very generous in distributing advertisements to all media houses, not strictly following standard practice of advertising that takes into consideration circulation figures, reach, quality and niche audiences. But when it starts doing it, that is the time lot of media houses might have to close shop, in a worst case scenario that is.

Media must brace up or prepare to die.

Source: Business Bhutan weekly, 24 December 2011