Saturday, October 24, 2009

PAYING FOR THE FREEDOM TO EXPRESS

One of the greatest Canadian parliamentarians, Edmund Burke, referred to press as the Fourth Estate, more important than three other estates in the parliament. I don’t know what the other three estates are. Maybe he was referring to legislation, judiciary and bureaucracy. Maybe I am wrong, so don’t take it seriously. Since I am just a casual writer, a reporter myself at one point of time, I thought I would share my own opinion about the newspapers’ role. I think it is especially relevant at a time when Bhutan Times has made headlines due to retirement of the reporters and an editor en masse.

So, in the light of Voltaire, who said to Helvetius, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," the readers would have to tolerate me. Compared to many newspapers around the world, Bhutanese newspapers, except for Kuensel are still “ baby in the wood.” They do have their own share of faults but their virtues are far greater than their faults. They reflect our society in many ways. They mirror us all the good, bad and ugly features that a society carries.

And like any other enterprise, it has its own element of business. It survives on advertisments, publications and creativity. It is sold under very competitive conditions these days and is required to have careful business management. If a newspaper is not produced for business, they are not newspaper but some kind of organ of whoever is sponsoring it. It has to be independent and to be independent it should have financial soundness.

But I also believe that most Bhutanese reporters and editors are able, responsible, and ambitiously capable of doing a good job despite many limitations. I am sure most believe in the fact that their work is important to their readers and to Bhutan. They can only justify their freedom of expression by reporting accurately and interestingly and also by interpreting intelligently the happenings of our time, which many of us take for granted.

Given the fact that we have a representative Government today in the form of democracy, the newspaper has a bigger responsibility of being a nation’s conscience. Therefore, survival of a newspaper becomes a a necessity. The perfect newspaper speaks for the lowly, oppressed and forgotten people. While discharging its responsibility, it would definitely trouble public conscience. In doing that, it is performing a worthy service to people. Bhutanese, like any other people around the world are hungry for news. We browse through the net to find if there is anything new.

A courageous publisher, being supported by an inspired, intelligent, and dynamic editorial staff would find his greatest fulfilment as a newspaperman. It is an achievement in itself if the newspapers are desired by the public for its authentic and well-written reports about national matters. Nattional matters need not necessarily be pleasing always.

All reporters are like any other human beings. He works, lives on his salary , gets married and look for good family life. He takes interests in matters that concerned everyone of us and often dwells in perplexities of life. But the main glamour belongs to the “brand name” created by the institution. It has the ability to change the lives of many people. So, to create such a revolution, it needs a leadership sensitive enough to understand the business of newspaper.

Freedom is a costly affair and if one cannot convey the message one wants to convey for whatever reasons, management or biasness, fear or personal interest, then the essence of newspaper becomes questionable.

Today, we are plagued by many problems. All the past generations had problems too but we are looking for new knowledge to tackle the problems we are facing now and only the newspaper can do it. Therefore, the newspaper has a double duty. It must comport itself so that it is read, listened or seen by mature people because of its reliability, and by young people because of its forward look. If the media do not have any of these elements, we might as well stop believing that we live in new Bhutan.