Friday, October 26, 2007

Bhutan media situation worsens

Media Situation in Bhutan has worsened this year even though the government claimed it is working to establish democratic government by holding first general elections soon.

It lost by 18 places compared to last year.

The worldwide press freedom index published recently by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has placed Bhutan in 116 rank out of 169 countries, down from 98 out of 168 last year. In 2005, the country ranked 142 out of 167 and in 2004, it ranked 146 out of 167 countries. In 2002, Bhutan was at top five worse offenders of press freedom in the world.

Bhutan scored 3717, 2500, 5150, 5583 and 9075 in 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 and 2002 press freedom index respectively.

Saranarthi Sarokar to be aired in Jhapa

Bhutan News Service (BNS) and Pathivara FM in Damak have reached an agreement on October 21 to air a weekly program from this local station from mid November.

According to agreement, the half-an-hour program will be aired from the radio on Thursdays 7:00 p.m. from November 15.

The program is being aired from Nepal FM in Kathmandu since last nine months in the initiation of the Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) - Bhutan.

Broadcast from Jhapa based radio will serve the Bhutanese community in exile. APFA plans to air the program from a radio in Ilam, which can be listened in south-western Bhutan.

First historic media conference concludes with a declaration

The first historic media conference of the Bhutanese journalists in exiled concluded on October 20 in Jhapa, Nepal where they have been taking refugee for the last 17 years after being evicted from Bhutan.

The conference attended by top leaders of the Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) – Bhutan, Third World Media Network (TWMN) – Bhutan Chapter and Bhutan Press Union (BPU), also adopted a ‘Declaration de Exile’ demanding reforms in draft constitution and laws related to media and press freedom.

The declaration is jointly signed by I. P. Adhikari, president of APFA, C. N. Timsina, president of BPU and T. P. Mishra, president of TWMN Bhutan Chapter.

The journalists during the closed door session discussed various strategies to fight for press freedom and freedom of speech and expression in the country.

Speaking at the declaration session, president of Bhutan People’s Party (BPP) Bala Ram Poudel, Genera Secretary of Druk National Congress (DNC) Rinzin Dorji, General Secretary of Bhutan Gurkha National Liberation Front (BGNLF) Lalit Pradhan, Mohan Tamang of BNDP and Dilli Ram Ghorsai of BRRPC extended their support for promotion of media sector in Bhutanese community and uphold demand for press freedom and freedom of speech and expression in Bhutan.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Opressed and still on Press

Even though T.P. Mishra is the Top Editor at The Bhutan Reporter, a monthly English-language newspaper written by and for Bhutanese refugees, it is his responsibility to pick up the papers from the press and transport them to his rented room, which serves as the newspaper's head office. To say The Bhutan Reporter operates on a shoestring budget is an understatement.

By Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Walk with T.P. Mishra through the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal as he delivers his shoulder-load of the month's issue of the newspaper. Watch and hear to some of the people responsible for taking the chance to create The Bhutan Reporter. T.P. Mishra shifts his load of 1,000 newspapers from one shoulder to the other. Someone honks at him. He gracefully navigates through the maze of cars, motorcycles and people competing for space in the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal.

No staffers are paid and the paper's monthly budget of 2,500 Nepali rupees (about $40) is contributed by the staff's editors, many of whom work as teachers. Subscriptions and advertisements are impossible.

Most of the newspaper's readers are refugees who have lived in camps near Damak, in eastern Nepal, for the last 17 years. They are legally barred from officially holding jobs in Nepal which means they have little disposable income. In addition, the paper cannot solicit advertisements since it is technically an illegal publication; Nepalese law does not allow foreign-owned media - like The Bhutan Reporter - to publish their Nepali-news papers and magazines in the country.

"I always feel responsible to the 23 correspondents stationed in camps and other associate editors stationed in Kathmandu," said Mishra. "They have been sweating a lot selflessly, therefore the very frequent question I receive is that whether the paper will give continuity to its hard copy print."

Sometimes the answer Mishra gives is "no." The paper, which began printing in 2004, skips publishing at times due to lack of funds. Back in March, The Bhutan Reporter nearly ceased to exist until a story about the newspaper's plight appeared on Media Helping Media, an online portal for news about freedom of the press in transitional countries. An 11th-hour donation from the World Association of Newspapers saved the newspaper for three months.

Despite the financial hardships, the paper's reporters and editors remain steadfastly dedicated to journalism.

During a recent editorial meeting at one of the refugee camps, reporters told Mishra that he must find a way to continue publishing The Bhutan Reporter because it was the one thing they had to look forward to in their lives.

"I go to Damak by bicycle to bring (the) newspaper to camps," said Puspa Adhikari, one of the paper's special correspondents, referring to the town about an hour's bicycle ride from the Beldangi refugee camps. "I face lots of difficulties; I have ambition to become an international journalist."

Adhikari's dream is the dream of many of the paper's other reporters. But a lack of educational resources and opportunities may keep dreams from becoming reality. Most of The Bhutan Reporter's staff do not have formal journalism training and indeed, this is sometimes reflected in the newspaper's stories, which do not always name sources or attribute information. Readers, too, have suggestions for improving the newspaper.

"If this paper could add more reporters they could give more fresh news from on the spot. It is lacking this," said Kapil Muni Dahal, a 10th-grade Nepali language teacher at a school inside one of the seven refugee camps.

Despite this lack of fresh news, Dahal said, "I share the paper with other people whenever I get it. I read it among the group and translate it into Nepali and the people listen and interact."

It's that commitment to readers like Dahal and his friends that keeps Mishra and the rest of The Bhutan Reporter staff working on the paper month after month. Their dream is to transform the newspaper into a bi-monthly publication and more.

"We have been working, keeping the aim that one day we will reach establishing this paper as the leading paper of Bhutan," said Mishra.

(Laura Elizabeth Pohl is a freelance photographer based in Hampton Roads, Va. She received her B.A. from American University and her M.A. from the University of Missouri.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nepal police held BPU general secy

The police in Damak arrested and held general secretary of Bhutan Press Union (BPU) Puranaghare for a night in custody without any reason.

Puranaghare told Bhutan News Service over telephone that he, along with his younger brother, was arrested from the rented room in Damak on Tuesday evening.

Despite his appeal to chief of the Damak police posts, they were not released. On Wednesday morning, as the local administration lifted the curfew imposed since four days, both of them have been released.

He said police had mentally and physically tortured them. They were beaten while being arrested.

Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) – Bhutan and Third World Media Network (TWMN) – Bhutan Chapter have condemned the act of the police administration of beating and manhandling Bhutanese journalists without any cause. They have asked the police not to repeat such acts in the future.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Media, step-motherly to poverty-related issues

South Asia is home to nearly half the world’s poor people – 500 million live on less than a dollar a day – yet poverty related issues did not receive the kind of media coverage or readership it deserved.

At the same time, readers preferred to read about celebrities, sports and glamour rather than a village getting a clean drinking water supply. How critical development issues can become a priority news agenda was therefore the theme of the editors’ roundtable held in Goa, India, from September 27-28 to help realize South Asia’s full potential.

The roundtable comes at a time when the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, the first truly global effort to eradicate poverty, is halfway to its deadline of 2015.

Editors talked about the pressure from advertisers and people in power and the ongoing debate of covering what was in the interest of the public as opposed to what was of interest to them.

Some media professionals pointed out that papers were under pressure to sell and the most they could do was bring up the issue.

An editor from Pakistan pointed out that the general mindset was that if one covered politics ‘one had arrived’.

There was also a shortage of trained journalists, particularly in India, which was seeing a boom in both print and broadcast media.

Some participants of the roundtable, however, said that the media had not been able to ‘sexify’ development issues in the way it was written and in its presentation through images and graphics.

“We need to work harder and put in much more effort when writing about development issues,” said Champika Liyanaarachchi, editor of the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka).

As the millennium development goals were something that every politician in the region talked about in their manifestos, Ben Phillips of Oxfam said that the media, in its role as a watchdog, could hold governments accountable for not keeping promises they make.

Some of the draft recommendations drawn up at the end of the roundtable were joint internships in media organisations and UN/Oxfam for young development professionals and exchange of staff of media organizations between countries at different levels of media development.

The UN and civil societies engaged in development issues could orient journalism students on development issues, partner with advertising agencies to focus on development issues, provide and package information and data, which is jargon-free and whenever possible in local languages, and give awards to journalists who write on development issues.

The roundtable was organised by the UN and OXFAM.