Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Threatened Media

It is one of the widely-accepted concerns that the media and human rights activities should not be obstructed from any third parties as they are essential to promote democratic values in the society. Any attempts to disrupt smooth functioning of media would be a crime because it bars individual from exercising their right to information.

The long-intimidated media sector operating inside Bhutanese refugee camps is yet to gain ‘independency’ following continuous threats from various groups including the underground outfits. Of late, the situation further worsened when Birat-led faction of Communist Party of Bhutan (CPB-MLM) started to threaten journalists inside refugee camps who are working as major sources of information.

Cadres of the CPB-MLM verbally issued death threats to Ichha K. Poudel, the associate editor of Bhutan News Service (BNS), the only news agency run by all independent Bhutanese journalists in exile in Nepal on May 16 accusing him of spying against their underground activities. Issuing a joint press statement after the incident, three major organizations viz Association of Press Freedom Activists, Bhutan Press Union and the Bhutan Chapter of Third World Media Network strongly defied the MLM’s baseless allegation.

The joint press statement speaks of the fact that Poudel was never involved in such a low-profiled activity that the MLM claimed. This is not the first time that the MLM, which has already declared armed rural class struggle in Bhutan, issued threats to independent journalists inside refugee camps. This underground outfit frequently alleges journalists in exile being advocator for third country resettlement.

Such allegations are illogical and baseless as all independent journalists in exile seem conscious of their commitment towards practicing ‘ethical and impartial journalism’ under their mission to advocate for the establishment of complete free press in Bhutan.Poudel along with one camp-based local correspondent for the BNS, Arjun Pradhan were even displaced from their temporary huts in camp for a couple of days with increasing threats from the cadres of the MLM. Later on, when the MLM cadre involved in the incident apologies before Poudel and Pradhan following pressure from the media groups, the situation turned quite normal thereby at least creating so-assumed secure atmosphere for these two journalists.

But, the two-tongued policy of the MLM still confuses refugee media activists for their safety and security. Such condemning acts from the party cadres should be immediately stopped by the MLM to ensure that it respects press freedom.

On the other side, this leaves a doubt as to whether the MLM is trying to bring the law on its hands despite the presence of camp management committee along with other several authorities of the government of Nepal. It is because no groups inside refugee camps can have legal right to bar independent journalists from their reporting duties.

If the MLM is truly fighting for the establishment of people’s democracy in Bhutan, I challenge it through this write-up to impose such allegations upon journalists inside Bhutan who are wholeheartedly supporting the absolute regime and restrict them from reporting. But the MLM’s disgraceful attempt to obstruct smooth functioning of media sector in exile would, in no means help build-up the party’s credibility within the public.

These days media sector operating inside refugee camps, in particular BNS has established itself as one of the best sources to disseminate balanced, impartial, accurate and credible information on Bhutanese refugees., a news portal run by the BNS which is visited by at least 2,000 viewers on daily-basis around the globe has become one of the major sources of first-hand-information-sharing even to the UNHCR including other several authorities concerned.

Thus, it’s the responsibility of even the UNHCR to opt for necessary measures to create conducive and secured atmosphere for Bhutan’s journalists in exile to help them operate independent media sector without being intimated.

Besides, the law of the host state, Nepal does not adequately entertain operation of independent media houses by any foreigners in the country. This law in itself sounds vague in the context of Bhutanese media sector in exile in Nepal because these media practitioners are working on no-profit basis. It won’t make much difference if the government of Nepal amends such laws therewith provisions to guarantee at least legal status and identification to exiled Bhutanese journalists who work on no-profit foundation.

This particular initiative from the government of Nepal is sure to minimize all sorts of harassment upon Bhutan’s journalists in exile as they would then have an authentic ‘recognition’. Here, the role of Federation of Nepalese Journalists, a member organization of the International Federation of Journalists is significant as it is the umbrella organization of journalists in Nepal, also where exiled Bhutanese journalists are languishing.

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