Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Media comes up to speed on politics

3 March, 2008 - Bhutanese journalists say they are better prepared to cover Bhutan’s first general election after going through a rigorous training on covering elections this week.

More than 40 journalists from the print and broadcast media were trained on covering elections, campaigns, and politics for a week in the capital. The training ended on February 29.

“Earlier, we simply walked into the field and wrote what we saw,” said Tashi Dema, a print journalist. “Now our entire perception has changed and we know our role in the democratic system, how to approach election stories and issues concerning politics.”

The training explored the role of a free press in democratic society, techniques for interviewing, writing, and producing political pieces, including details like ethical conduct for reporting. Journalists also made field trips and practiced writing articles.

Most of the journalists are heading to different constituencies in the region to catch up on the campaign trail and report first hand from the hustings.

Radio journalists are planning to cover all 47 constituencies by doing “live” interviews of candidates and voters. “The training prepared us well,” said Choki Wangchuk from Kuzoo FM.
Being the first of its kind, most journalists Kuensel spoke to say they expect to come across hurdles in the process while reporting on politics.

“But challenges will be faced not only by media but everyone involved, including voters,” said Kinchho Tshering, also from Kuzoo FM. “It would also be difficult for us to contact people in rural areas who do not have access to phones.”

“We expect the authorities concerned to cooperate,” said Kesang Choki (Kelsa), a producer from Bhutan Broadcasting Service. “On our part, we’ll work within the framework of the law.”

The training, which also included interactive sessions with the spokespersons of the two political parties and the chief election commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, was conducted by two renowned journalists from United States.

Writer and editor Michael Putzel said it was exciting to see curious and enthusiastic journalists, who took their responsibility seriously. “I’m confident they’ll perform great service for the people and a country stepping into democracy,” he said.

“Bhutan is in safe hands,” said Andrea Bernstein, political director, WNYC public radio. “I’m extremely encouraged by the quality of Bhutanese journalists, who are curious, have a good nose for news and know how to talk to people.”

The training programme, funded by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was a part of the project signed between the government and UNDP last week, which aimed to support democratic governance by strengthening media, including quality reporting, and promoting effective and efficient communication channels between government and media.

The project will also provide assistance for the setting up of a Journalist Association of Bhutan to enhance coordination among media organisations and provide a framework for self-regulation.