The Bhutan News Service is proud to be back, rejuvenated with modern digital delivery and a fresh approach to its core role of promoting our community’s interests. I am delighted to be onboard as one of its regular columnists.
I am dedicating my first column to reflecting on the relaunch and how we, as a community, can all help it to work. When the team announced the news media’s closure in January 2020, I wrote a piece stating that an epilogue, particularly such a sad one is painful to write and more so if you hold the subject dear to your heart.
I tried to elucidate how an important entity such as the BNS needed to survive, not only for the development of media professionalism in our community but, more importantly, for the sake of promoting our own community interests. That’s why the relaunch is such welcome news.
I knew that the revival was coming. The news media’s Executive Editor made contact to update me about what was planned and about the changes that would be made. ‘BNS will feature a new look and style, and it will embrace the best professional practices,’ he said.
He was true to his word. There has been a transformation. The website glows with fresh-looking features and a more attractive professional design, all enhanced by the essential element of artful journalism.
The ‘Faces of Bhutan’ section is an anthropology of Bhutan in pictures. It illustrates the diversity which comprises the ethnic mosaic that is in the southern Bhutanese society.
The introduction of a new column section did, of course, require new writers. The Executive Editor approached me to be one of them. I agreed but only after a long pause before signing a contract which will last for a year. The other columnist is Yeshi Pelzom Pradhan, a very deserving academic and a writer of reckoning. I am happy to share the platform with Yeshi.
Columnists are supposed to write thought-provoking pieces which offer commentary, strong messaging and firm opinions. Even for me, this is a new practice but I am sure learning comes with doing.
I accepted the offer to become a columnist partly because I am a relentless promoter of the principle of freedom of expression. Talking about free expression makes me recall the experiences we went through growing up in Bhutan without free media and the right of expression. This taught us hard lessons. We now owe it to our past and to ourselves to exercise these freedoms whenever and however we can. We should speak for others, those for whom such freedoms are not a normal fact of life, those whose voices are still muted. BNS carries that passion and this is where we must connect.
The constitution of the team has changed too. Some of the old guard has withdrawn, opening up opportunities for interested young enthusiasts from college backgrounds. As a person associated with BNS since its early days, it gives me immense pleasure to see many young faces join the team.
This is continuity with change, a win-win sustenance formula. The involvement of youth is a visionary step in the right direction. It can help us perpetuate our collective identity going forward.
Media is the eyes and ears of any society and for many years the BNS has honored that solemn duty. I depend on it for news and views about our society. The disappearance of the BNS, even for a short time, led to a silence and emptiness that many of us felt was leading us into darkness. The importance of the BNS to our community cannot be overstated. Rochelle L. Frounfelker has rightly said that ‘Bhutan News Service’ is a critical forum for the Bhutanese diaspora’.
The BNS has a lot of work to do. As a community where there is just a handful of practicing journalists who are still learning and a much fewer number of contributors, its role in reinforcing our stories, constructing and shaping a new narrative through community discourse is crucial.
Also, framing a common language of the story of persecution while counteracting stigmatizing notions coming from the Bhutanese government is equally important, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity.
It is respectable, understandable and proper that the BNS wants to become a true representative of the Bhutanese diasporic community. However, in many ways its operational style needs to be customized to suit community needs and interests. It wouldn’t be wise to always stick to rules in the name of media professionalism.
That said, the BNS is reaching out to the community at large seeking writers, contributors, volunteers and donors to make its operations viable and to promoting a committed and expanded readership. But to my knowledge, the responses have been anything from mixed to direct discouragement.
The Bhutanese diasporic community can do better than this. Come on, get onboard.
Subba is one of the columnists for BNS.