BNS activities: looking back and forth
Founded in 2006, Bhutan News Service (BNS) is Bhutan’s only independent and first news agency, though run from exile. Run by volunteer exiled Bhutanese journalists—that comprise mostly like-minded youths, the news agency is strictly guided by the standard set norms and ethics of professional journalism. Public’s right to information in context of Bhutan has been long encroached by the government. Although the country has lately been declared a democratic one, the real situation has still been camouflaged by the government. We are a group of exiled journalists dedicated to safeguard Bhutanese citizen’s right to information. In a way, our another mission is to raise strong voice for complete media freedom in Bhutan.
Doubtlessly, in the year 2010, BNS has the credit to have featured hundreds of news reports, dozens of interviews (some of which could have been rarely possible from any other media), a number of feature and analysis pieces. Though all of the materials we produced were more or less of equal importance, it will obviously be tedious if we scrutinize one-to-one here. However, it might be very timely and significant to accentuate some of the representative issues by bringing them here as reminiscence to wrap-up the year reporting.
In the prime mission of informing our valued readers through the current happenings as it happens with the continued support from our volunteer correspondents stationed at different corners of the world, we successfully disseminated news in a fast-track procedure—be it during power-cut situations in the capital city of Nepal, from our team member’s cell phone-internet or during the break time from our work place in Diaspora. In a way of journalism, we tried making the portal updated 24/7 for there existed the need to create informed atmosphere for Bhutanese citizens, both inside and outside the country.
First day of 2010 began with the report of Earthquake tragedy in Bhutan where 100s of our countrymen had to suffer the cruel hunch of natural calamity. In the same month, the site had to report another natural mishap—the fire in Beldangi-I camp in eastern Nepal, where more than 100 refugee huts turned to ashes and added woes to the otherwise hard lives of our compatriots. In the phase of follow-up news, our team began the mission of donation drive to assist the inferno victims and productively gathered 1,50,000 plus Nepali rupees (approximately 2085 USD) for them.
In terms of promoting advocacy, year 2010 witnessed numerous efforts made by Bhutanese in exile to let the outside world know that the, otherwise, stated struggle towards achieving peace and justice in Bhutan ended up with the ongoing third country resettlement. In this undertaking, BNS successfully made the expectant readers to add in their drollness the reality induced towards the other side of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Launch of Bhutanese Advocacy Forum-Europe and its activities, for instance, lobbying in Brussels and lobbying at the 13th Human Rights Council meeting in Palis des Nations were reported from the respective venues by our correspondents. We strongly believe that the result of the continuous coverage of those events by our news agency became the agenda in most of the international discussion forums.
Formation of Organization of Bhutanese Community in America (OBCA), its first convention at Georgia, and the Convention of Association of Bhutanese in America (ABA) were reported through ‘live blogging’ by us from the venue. Our sole concern was directed towards bringing unity in disunity and shape the sense of brotherhood amid the Bhutanese elsewhere. And, that helped the newly resettled Bhutanese to organize their community in different states. Interestingly, for the same, BNS team mediated the dialogue between OBCA and ABA to have single common platform for the resettled Bhutanese and it has been under way to its establishment.
Participation of resettled Bhutanese in GNH conference at Vermont equally drew the attention of outside world in rethinking the other side of GNH. Likewise, declaration of Punya Foundation – a foundation dedicated to Bhutanese Martyrs and Martyrs Salvation program organized at Georgia, Washington and Beldangi-I in Jhapa, Nepal became the topic of discussion globally in the latter part of the year.
Although it was sad, we did not fail to report those suicide cases of resettled Bhutanese in the third countries. We aimed at generating awareness among our people and concerned agencies involved in the resettlement procedure, and reported with the intention to reduce the cause of suicide seeking discussions in different venues of resettlement through counseling and education.
We were proven first in breaking dozens of public concern news stories, for instance, the death of former prime minister of Nepal GP Koirala, one of the sympathizers of Bhutanese movement, assassination of Ramesh Subba, former Camp Secratery of Beldagi-I camp, sudden death of young woman leader, Rupa Subba, negligence of AMDA-Nepal in treatment of exiled Bhutanese in camps, hardships faced by the resettled Bhutanese, among others.
Our effort has drawn the attention of international community on the arrest of Prem Singh Gurung and Ugyen Tashi, two Bhutanese Christians that let the outside world know the state of religious intolerance in Bhutan. In terms of disseminating matters of genuine public concern, we could interview Stephane Jaquemnt, Country Representative of the UNHCR in Nepal on the legitimate issues pertaining to Bhutanese Refugees in the UNHCR-administered seven camps in Eastern Nepal. This approach of ours has motivated us for our mission, and that has even been applauded by the UNHCR officials.
Likewise, the interview with Sashi Shekar Sherstha, Chief District Officer of Jhapa district on the plight of non-registered Bhutanese refugees and future plans of Nepal Government to registering them and granting the refugee status to those forgotten people has filled our inbox with emails from our readers and well-wishers appreciating our efforts. And, it is reported lately that Government of Nepal is likely to begin the registration process through special task force. As well, the new alliance led by RK Dorji was a prime discussion issue on our news portal for several weeks. We equally gave space to ‘otherwise voice’ that stated Dorji was incapable of leading the democratic struggle in Bhutan.
The other part of our mission was to work in preserving our age old tradition and culture. There was always debate in the camps whether we could practice our culture in third countries. Our correspondents stationed at different locations consigned our editorial board with different cultural programs and festival celebrations organized at different times at different countries. For the same, we still continue to receive words of appreciations and suggestions that encourage us for our future undertakings. With a view of making our society more transparent and open, BNS tried its best to provide space to several thousands of comments from its valued readers, from all walks of life, excluding those which were considered as personal, direct attack on someone or otherwise written in uncivilized styles.
Steps forward to achievement
BNS made some progress in disseminating news in terms of professional conduct and technical advancement. In the simplest form, BNS has come to serve bilingual. The Nepali news desk is striving to serve the population with no English background. By doing so, BNS has increased the horizon of news readership. Despite the challenges and financial hardships faced by us, it is really a matter of pride to the volunteer journalists to be able to give continuity to the agency for over four years. Today, a big chunk of Bhutanese inside the country and every one in the refugee camps and major portion of the resettled ones rely solely on BNS for the news. It’s been a medium for not only the Bhutanese, but also to the UNHCR, other NGOs, refugee resettlement agencies and the people around the world to learn the happenings related to Bhutan and its people, both in and outside the country. In fact, BNS has become a news source for the Bhutanese citizens, donor agencies and friends of Bhutan. By now we have a big number of increasing visitors from Bhutan and we hope to opt for various approaches to make the number grow further.
BNS has always been the social forum to make the Diaspora get connected. In 2010, BNS served the forum to discuss various issues of resettlement, GNH conference in USA, efforts to form community organizations after resettlement. Bhutanese in Europe, Australia, Canada and USA expressed their opinions, concerns, suggestions and critical comments on some important issues of common interest. Two organizations in USA, the fresh produce OBCA, and earlier rhizome ABA held their conferences in Georgia which initiated a range of discussion about the organizational capacity and functions in USA. RP Subba’s column on pacifying the heated atmosphere of debate attracted record high number of comments for 2010.
BNS also gave space to some writers, of both older and younger generations, who otherwise have remained untouched with mass for a long time. Taking in consideration, the media-savvy Diaspora, BNS has enhanced the level of social networking among Bhutanese everywhere.
Beginning of ‘untold story’ section by BNS is another way to bring about more fragmented pieces of unwritten history individual Bhutanese contributed while in Bhutan. From the technology point of view, BNS started a trend of live blogging, much practiced in world’s leading news agencies, whenever events of public importance occur. Conferences of OBCA and ABA were reported with live blogging on the venue in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a step forward towards technology-driven media management.
In terms of human resources, BNS added 40 plus new volunteer correspondents in USA alone. There is also a growing number of younger folks stepping into BNS forum from outside the US too. Many joined the team in 2010 from Australia, Norway, Canada, among others. Stationed at major cities of resettlement, these correspondents posted eventful news concerning community life of Bhutanese in resettlement areas. We launched a series of short-term (some hours) basic journalism training programs, especially in camps in Nepal. In joint collaboration with both Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese not-for-profit organizations, BNS organized various programs in and around refugee camps in Nepal including ‘canvas drawing competition’.
At a time when the modern media houses across the world have stepped into advanced digital epoch, thus, becoming well-armed with quality news through multi-media approaches, BNS is hard-hit with several challenges just for its physical survival. Interestingly, we flatly admit that BNS sounds more like a traditional news agency. Despite our willingness to make BNS a multi-media news agency with the lack of both human and material resources, we haven’t been able to materialize our dream. However, we are now proud to have a good number of skillful friends to enable us develop BNS a multi-media news agency. We are quite not sure of when to include the multi-media to generate and disseminate news contents but much closer to becoming equipped for it, perhaps the count down has already begun. Your helping hands, especially materialistic, perhaps will drive this objective of ours forward to practical destination.
In a way, motivation is clearly defined as the driving force to attain certain goals. As a valued reader, you might have felt the presence of emerging new faces of writers almost every month in BNS. As a budding and independent first news agency of Bhutan, though run from exile, we have deep-rooted loophole—that in one way clearly reflects our visible failure to remunerate the writers’ efforts, who normally spend several hours, if not weeks, to come forth with a piece of article.
Since our official launching in 2006, we don’t have a single record where we have remunerated writer’s efforts. This is because BNS is managed and run by a group of like-minded exiled Bhutanese youths, who dare to volunteer their valuable time, money and energy to safeguard public’s right to information. The founding members of the BNS, especially at the initial days of existence, while back in Kathmandu, Nepal, tirelessly spent several hours, even suppressing hunger, besides other challenges. Some of them have already invested thousands of Nepalese currency (hundreds of US dollars) to bring BNS to this stage. None among us (especially those founding members) have expected anything in return while investing both money and energy for the general cause; yet every one of us still continue to endow whatever possible.
Following the offer of third country resettlement program, even BNS team members had to agree to a dispersed living across the world, within the parameters set by resettling countries. It is perhaps, what we like to call, a ‘choice from a choice-less choice’. As you all do, we are also struggling for both personal and family’s existence in the new setting. Nonetheless, we are truly committed towards devoting our time to safeguarding your right to information through the steady existence of BNS. Of late, we started to fear that we might have to lose emerging writers due to our inability to remunerate their efforts. A small token of appreciation—be it of any kind, always makes a big difference and it serves as instant tool to motivation. In the near future, we would like to set up various awards ranging from ‘journalist of the year,’ ‘writer of the year,’ to ‘contributor of the year’ and try our best to honor the contributions made by writers and contributors. As a matter of fact, this objective of ours is less likely to be seen in practical aspect at least until you as a reader (community member, individual, organizations, among others) show up voluntarily to extend your helping hands. Another mission of BNS now on will be to focus more on exploring various possibilities of mobilizing reliable resources to cover the basic expenses of writers and guest contributors. Again we might need your suggestions and direct support here too.
In a way, we have started becoming partly guided by the principles of ‘citizen journalism’. When there is active and direct participation of public in news generation process—be it through their own blogs, personal sites or other means, there exists citizen journalism. We often receive news reports directly from public and in some cases, almost all of such stories have proven factual. We have never hesitated to provide them a platform for publication. Citing the fact that production of factual and balanced news stories, in such context, however is little complex, we are in a process to build up an unswerving mechanism in near future.
Days ahead in 2011, BNS will put efforts to build a stronger network of working relationships with journalists in Bhutan. The privatization of media in Bhutan has opened up the floodgates for Bhutanese media to take news of all walks of life. This will realize the prospect of citizen journalism in Bhutan too. BNS also expects to develop a trust of its own to finance the major activities in future. On the meantime, we are always open to hear constructive suggestions from our valued readers in shaping our future activities. From technical point of view, we will try to create a mechanism in near future through which the comment moderation system will be well managed.
Given the situation of dispersed settlement in different countries, BNS has not been able to uplift the organizational strength to a desired level. There is always a shortage of funds to carry out media development activities, especially the training to take up news reporting more professionally. Most of the activities are supported by ad hoc contribution by the members. The media and release acts in different country is different. This has added to the dilemma that BNS might not be able to accomplish what it expects in a year or two. We always need your help. You can always be a part of help to BNS to carry on its mission.
To conclude, BNS likes to extend its warm wishes and best regards to its valued readers on the eve of happy new year 2011. Let this year bring a ray of hope to build a new spirit to work unitedly for the common cause. We also would like to take this opportunity to extend words of appreciations and graditude to all volunteer journalists, writers, readers, contributors, among others, who were part of BNS in 2010. We hope to seeing your continuous contribution in the upcoming days.
Editor’s note: For those of you who wish to extend support or get involved in BNS, please correspond at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
(With partial inputs from RN Pokhrel, Kazi Gautam, TP Mishra and Ramesh Gautam)