The cost of promoting Dzongkha

Published on Dec 11 2009 // Media Monitor

December 11, 2009: From this issue, Bhutan Observer’s Dzongkha edition, Druk Nelug, is going smaller drastically and significantly. The award-winning Dzongkha newspaper is becoming poorer by four pages, down from 10 pages. However regrettable and painful it is, three-and-a-half-year-old financial reasons have questioned its very survival and compelled us to take this drastic measure.

In the last three and a half years, Bhutan Observer has spent more than Nu 7.09 million on the publication of its Dzongkha edition while it has hardly generated Nu 1.2 million in return. This means, only about 17 percent of the cost has been recovered.

In Druk Nelug’s first nine months, when it recruited as many as 15 translators, only four advertisement materials were provided solely for publication in Dzongkha. It was the period during which Bhutan Observer spent more than Nu one million for a return of Nu 100,000.

This is all because, despite dismally poor readership and total lack of advertisement revenue, the government policy requires every newspaper to publish its Dzongkha edition mandatorily.

While we wholeheartedly acknowledge the policy that seeks to promote our national language, putting a fledgling newspaper to a survival test through an imposition is anything but reasonable.

As much as the media are socially responsible agencies, they are also commercial entities. Bhutan Observer has, on its own or with other newspapers, repeatedly appealed to the government in numerous fora to support its Dzongkha edition. Every time, the government has acknowledged our appeal and assured its support, both verbally and in black and white.

Druk Nelug’s suspension after nine months of financially crippling operation provoked strong reactions from the government. With the threat of revoking licence if the publication was not resumed, the government assured that it was ‘taking stock of all the problems and issues faced by the private newspapers and investigating ways and means to address them.’ That was in March 2007. Since then, many appeals and assurances have been exchanged, but to no avail.

We are reducing Druk Nelug to four pages as an interim measure. We will continue to be a separate publication – not an insert – and maintain its standard and credibility that we have painstakingly built over the years. The day the government gives meaning to its assurances, we will bring back Druk Nelug to its present form and improve upon it.

Until then, we will keep stressing that our Dzongkha edition is unsustainable. Period.

(Editorial, Bhutan Observer)