Vexing new year for Bhutan Times

Published on Jan 05 2010 // Media Monitor
By Sonam Palden

The Earth Ox year was not very good for Bhutan Times, as the paper made headlines with the resignation of its founding managing director, a financial crisis and a mass resignation of the editor and six reporters who accused the management of editorial interference.

It seems the beginning of the New Year also doesn’t seem very bright for the country’s first private paper with BT having its first board meeting of the year yesterday and a senior board member saying he was not invited.

“I am shocked I was not invited,” said Chheki Wangchuk, also a relative of the former managing director Tenzin Rigden. Talking to Business Bhutan over phone from Galing in Trashigang, Chheki Wangchuck said he was waiting for the meeting to be called as he wanted to raise some issues regarding the paper’s functioning.

Sources close to the development told this paper that the board member was not invited because he was related to the former managing director.

But the chief executive officer and editorial advisor of BT, Wangcha Sangay said Chheki Wangchuk had resigned from the board and that was why he was not informed about the meeting. Chheki Wangchuk says it is not true.

He said he has not resigned and it was he who wanted to call an extra ordinary board meeting.

He stated that after he had made repeated requests to have an extra ordinary board meeting, the management never bothered to reply.

But Wangcha Sangay told Business Bhutan that Chheki Wangchuk wanted to resign from the board and propose another person to take his position. Chheki Wangchuk had not attended the previous meeting, said the BT ceo.

“I pleaded with him to come for the previous meeting,” said Wangcha Sangay. According to the ceo, on September 15, Chheki Wangchuk informally told the ceo about his resignation, to which Wangcha Sangay said the matter could be raised only during the Annual General Meeting (AGM).

“But I never resigned,” said Chheki Wangchuk. According to him, the present MD refused to take his resignation though it was informally presented. He was waiting for the AGM so that he could resign formally.

BICMA ultimatum to BT
Meanwhile, the regulatory authority, Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) had sent a letter to Bhutan Times on December 26 asking the paper to submit details of the new editorial team.

The letter basically dealt with three main issues: to submit details of the editorial team following the resignation of the former editor and six scribes who have started the new  newspaper, The Journalist;  a bond signed by a professional editor; and the management’s stand on editorial independence.

BICMA Director, Kinley T. Wangchuk, said the authority had to make sure that there is no management interference in the news section.

The letter has asked BT to reply before January 15. If the BT reply is not satisfactory, BICMA may suspend the paper’s license for a period of time; revoke the license; or levy a fine on the paper.

But talking to Business Bhutan, Wangcha Sangay denied receiving a letter from BICMA regarding the editorial team.

“Yes, we received a letter but it had nothing to do with the team,” he said.

Troubles in BT began after Tenzin Rigden resigned. The company declared a loss of Nu 5.39m in the first half of last year.  Then, Wangcha Sangey, the chairman of the BT board of directors took over as the MD. He adopted cost-cutting measures including stopping free tea and said he is determined to “pull the company from a deep tunnel.”

Meanwhile an informed source told Business Bhutan that yesterday’s meeting did not discuss any financial matters. Asked about the BICMA letter, the source said Wangcha Sangay informed the board that there was a letter from the authority and did not elaborate.

“It was just a formality meeting,” Wangcha Sangay told Business Bhutan.

(From Business Bhutan, January 03, 2010)