APFA concerns BT journalists walk out


Oct 28: Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) has condemned the acts of Bhutan Times management for imposing its interest on editorial team due to which journalists have to leave the paper in group on October 22.

Below is the press statement issued by APFA- Bhutan.

Press Release

Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) condemns the acts of Bhutan Times management for imposing its interest on editorial team due to which journalists have to leave the paper in group on October 22.

According to the journalists, including editor Gopilal Acharya, without even a rudimentary editorial capability or journalistic background, the new CEO of the paper Mr. Sangey Wangcha demanded that the editorial meetings be held in his presence, and that a hard copy of all the stories being written during the course of the week be submitted to him before they went for print.

In the course of preparing the first issue with him as the CEO on October 4, Mr Sangey sat beside the editor and tried to impose his idea of how a story should be edited.

On October 12, Sangey questioned the editorial ‘A drunken nation, are we’ humiliating the sub-editor. He alleged that the editorial had slurred the nation. This demotivated the reporters so much that they didn’t want to work under him. During the same editorial meeting, he also complained bitterly about an opinion piece filed in by a contributor.

He accused reporters of plagiarism and reminded the editor of his ‘social’ standing.

As the CEO, he assumed the role of de facto editor-in-chief by centralizing the newsroom around him. To do so he took the following decisions:

  • He directed the receptionist to pass all incoming calls to him including those per­taining to the news­room.
  • He directed the marketing section (where the company’s fax ma­chine is installed) to collect all the fax messages and bring them directly to him including those addressed to the editor for news coverage.
  • He made it clear that all the reporters directly report to him.
  • He wanted the reporters to divulge their sources and file in all their information in a cabinet in his chamber.
  • He called some of the reporters to his office and used fear tactic to be grateful to him for not throwing them out.

He intimidated reporters and gradually the reporters started self-censoring their news. He himself started writing news and opinions (see October 25 issue of the paper).

He ran an ad (see October 25 issue) asking read­ers for their comments: “Please convey your com­ments, views, opinion and even news, information tips to Bhutan Times at email: [email protected] or call 17116384,” (which is his personal mobile number.

As a gesture of promoting independent journalism and live on the ethics of media practitioner, the seven journalists walked out of the company. APFA appreciates their step and term it as a milestone to media freedom in the new democracy. The political and business leaders in Bhutan for long suppressed the media in protecting their interest. Following the publication of Bhutan Times as the first private newspaper in Bhutan, many unreported but unethical activities of the business and political leaders have come to the surface. Not been able to feel this burnt, the management used all its force to compel the journalists work for their interest. However, the seven journalists took a bold step to defy the management orders and censorship.

APFA urges for independent press in this new democracy. For the democracy to flourish, media has important role to play. Subduing media is directly or indirectly linked to subduing budding democracy.

Not to let this pioneer media die, already hit by financial crisis, the management must create environment whereby these journalists can return to their newsroom and work independently, without any force or fear. Let journalists decides what goes in news and editorials.

I. P. Adhikari

President, APFA- Bhutan