Friday, February 6, 2009

And so we move on …

5 February, 2009 - Kuensel’s editor-in-chief, Kinley Dorji, has been appointed secretary in the ministry of information and communication. In his last days with Kuensel, he reflects on his experience with Bhutan’s national newspaper.

When we started publishing Kuensel twice a week, a reader complained to me: “So we now have to read two preachings a week?” It was a legitimate complaint. Editorial writers are always grappling with one dilemma, that of making a point without sermonising. The responsibility of imposing ideas on people can be an uneasy exercise. But it is one that must be done. And, having written 1,020 editorials - exercising the right to tell people what they do not want to hear - the good news for my critics is that this is my last.

Having been granted a new mandate, I am moving on. I believe it is only right that we move on when we are getting more out of an organisation than we are contributing to it.

Like generations of Bhutanese before me (and generations that will come after me), I grew with Bhutanese society. I believe in the intricate web of karmic existence within which we are all destined to a tiny role in the phenomenon of human existence. So I do not wonder that I grew up without newspapers, radio, or television and became a journalist.

Like a number of others of my age group - give or take a few years - I was plucked out of an innocent society and sent abroad to study, first to India and then overseas. We returned to privileged jobs, pioneers by fate. I didn’t have to look for a job as a reporter. By 1986, the fourth Druk Gyalpo had decided that Bhutan needed a newspaper. So we started one.

As Bhutanese professionals look beyond the national horizon for better opportunities today, I still hear the echoes of amazement of other foreign students in our time: “Why do all of you go home after your studies?” Little did they know that we were a generation in transition: “Because we’re Bhutanese,” we said. And this was a historical perspective.

In the two and a half decades I spent writing for Kuensel I had the honour and privilege to belong anywhere and everywhere. I have sat in the Throne room. I have sat with murderers in their prison cells. I listened to the fourth Druk Gyalpo announce his abdication. I listened to the first cry of a new-born baby in a new maternity ward. I watched the transition of the Raven Crown and His Majesty the King don the Dhar Na Nga.

The excitement comes from documenting the present as it becomes history and by anticipating the future … all this through the most passionate human drama. The professional dignity of a journalist comes with the mandate to talk to everyone and to ask questions, with the legitimacy of being relevant in any situation.

Many of my editorials were written in hotel rooms and on buses, trains, aircrafts, shopping malls, coffee shops, and bars. Cradling a laptop besides bikini-clad sunbathers in the Maldives can be fun. Prostrating at sacred Hindu temples in India is sanctifying. Because of Kuensel I have flown to the fragile glacial lakes high above the clouds and walked the tunnels below the salmon-filled Hokkaido river. I dined with heads of state at national capitals and scrambled for the last piece of meat at a lunch in Dagana.

At one stage we would send stories and photographs from the east by jeep with three men driving in shifts. Within a few years I got a dial up connection at Kurizampa, where a sleepy woman charged me Nu 7.00 to send an editorial to Thimphu from an outdoor PCO booth. In my time at Kuensel the 15-kg metal typewriter changed into a portable lightweight typewriter, then into an electronic typewriter, and then a laptop.

Some say that journalists express, sometimes develop, the conscience of a nation. The role of the media is so important that a society can be judged by how it treats its journalists.

Working in a society, which is transiting into a new era, is both grave and exciting. The right to question comes with the obligation to find answers and to address issues around us with objectivity and responsibility. That is a high call but even if one person reads your story and says, “Yes, that makes sense”, it is an achievement. If one person has been given a good idea, it has been worthwhile. If you’ve helped make a small change, it has been a service. And if you have influenced national policy or thinking, you cannot ask for more.

We need journalism. At a time when our society must delve deeper into itself, we need Bhutanese journalists. We need to ask those uncomfortable questions. We need discourse on important issues. We need to reflect on ourselves. Gross National Happiness, which we talk about so much, lies within us, not outside. Democracy must take shape. Bhutanese must understand Bhutan.

In the early 1990s, encouraged by a royal decree that freed Kuensel and BBS from government control, we were testing and expanding the boundaries of free speech despite resistance from the society itself. We had to nurture the idea of a free and, by the standards of an unexposed readership, aggressive media.

Today, we are looking at the birth of a new generation of Bhutanese media professionals. They are taking on a huge mandate. Some by choice, some by fortune, they are placed in a position to influence thinking and make a difference. The literate audience, as in most developing societies, are key decision-makers and journalists have the opportunity to broadcast and write stories that will have impact. They will have the privilege of hearing their ideas discussed in important fora and of seeing some of them influence national policies.

Journalists eventually discover that journalism is not a job. It is a serious responsibility. In the process, journalists face many dilemmas and hardships. They already face numerous complaints and harassment. It will get worse. But a good journalist will not regret a single moment of his or her career no matter how stressful it might be.

And we have our own style in Bhutan. I was given the title of “Ace Reporter” before I even wrote my first decent story. But, as far as the profession itself was concerned, I had, somewhat unwittingly, jumped on to a very sensitive balancing act. Premature gray hair and hypertension came with the profession.

But I believe it is journalism that has shaped my personal values and perspectives by forcing me to confront myself, society, and the world. In the process, journalism has given me a horizon and deeper understanding of my surroundings, my experiences, and myself.

So I have, once again, taken the privilege of imposing a part of my story on those who read this piece. To those, who are annoyed with yet another sermon, I offer no apology. To the young women and men, who will become journalists, I offer my solidarity. As I change my job, some call it a promotion. I see it as a mandate. I believe that journalists do not go up or down. They just move around.

But, most important, I consider it critical that I keep looking at the world as a journalist.
Source: clik here (Kuensel)

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