T.P Mishra’s parents fled Bhutan along with thousands of others when he was a young boy. He grew up in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal were he began his journalistic life training young journalist. Later Mishra became the editor of a newspaper and a news agency and an active member of a journalist association covering the issues facing the Bhutanese media both in exile and in Bhutan.
Last year he was resettled in the United States. I contacted Mishra, who regularly contributes to this site Media Helping Media, to find out what impact the move to New York has had on his work.
Q: Why were you exiled from Bhutan and how did you end up in refugee camps in Nepal?
Mishra: My parents were victims of Bhutan’s ethnic cleaning policy when Southern Bhutanese were systematically forced to leave the country. They were forced to sign land sale documents and state they were leaving of their own will. Most people left the country between 1991 and 1993. My parents were Bhutanese citizens with citizenship identity cards, land ownership documents and tax paid receipts. However Bhutan still categorically denies accepting them as Bhutanese citizens.
Q: You were instrumental in the development of newspapers, a news agency and an association for journalists while living in the refugee camps – what motivated that work?
Mishra: I started writing when I was 15 years old and studying in the eighth grade in the refugee camp school. At that time, there was a need to inform the Bhutanese refugee communities with news from the camps. I along with others kept the process going. We tried to apply high standards and ethics to our journalism and apply accepted journalistic ethics. My family has always supported me and that has been important. My brother, who is also a journalist, invested a huge amount for my higher education so that I could enhance my journalistic skills. Co-workers and some senior Bhutanese journalists in exile also encouraged and guided me at times.
Q: Was your motivation about empowering Bhutanese refugees in the camps or was it about working towards freedom of expression in Bhutan?
Mishra: At first we focused our campaigning for the Bhutanese community in the camps covering stories about their daily lives. We looked at issues such as repatriation and aid from groups such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). We also felt that we needed to continue to campaign for media freedom in Bhutan.
Q. How powerful were the media bodies you helped create and what has happened to the journalists you left behind now that you are resettled in the USA?
Mishra: The entire Bhutanese community, both those living in the UN-monitored refugee camps in Nepal and those in Diaspora, rely on the information we produced and disseminate. Following the third country resettlement programme, which peaked in 2007 and still continues, our news agency, in particular Bhutan News Service, BNS has been playing a crucial role to keep the community informed with news concerning their lives. Local authorities including the Armed Police Force (APF) deployed in the refugee camps tried to intimidate refugee journalists, particularly as we became more influential. A majority of refugee journalists have already resettled in various western countries through resettlement programmes, but we still have people in the camps and continue to cooperate with each other via e-mail and phone. They still contribute news reports from camps.
Q. Now you have moved to the Americas, what do you feel you can contribute in your efforts to support media in exile?
Mishra: When I was boarding a plane from Nepal to New York I wondered whether I would still be able to contribute as a journalist. However I have found that I can manage my time in order to contribute along with many of my fellow journalists. Most of us work full time here in the States and some of us are even attending colleges, but we are still able to contribute our time to media. A strong sense of commitment is essential. I often edit content for our news portal and write features and analysis pieces without expecting anything in return. I feel it is my responsibility to devote some time in my hectic schedule to our news agency, BNS.
Q. What networks have you built with exiled journalists from other countries and is it your aim, eventually, to build a global voice?
Mishra: Until the filing of this interview, we have not been involved with any such formal networks run by other exiled journalists. However, we often try to contact exiled journalists when we find their contact address. And, we do share the story of our struggle and learn of theirs in return. We became refugees first and started practicing journalism after we left our country. We were not exiled for practicing journalism in our country. The experiences of exiled journalists from other countries often match ours, so it may be possible to create a network of exiled journalists as long as it meets our aims and objectives.
Q. Having left the camp and resettled in America it would have been easy to forget the past and the plight of exiled media – what motivated you to continue to care?
Mishra: Responsibility for Bhutanese society matters a lot to me. We felt the need to build a strong alternative media because of what was happening in Bhutan. I am keen to continue my career as a journalist in the West, although it may take some time. What has kept me going is the encouraging feedback from those in the Bhutanese community who rely on the material we deliver.
Q. What international support have you received and how important has that been?
Mishra: At a time when I was working as publisher and chief editor of The Bhutan Reporter (TBR) – a monthly newspaper published by and for Bhutanese refugees – we received financial support from various individuals and international organisations. The World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) helped us for three months and the Hague-based Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) supported the publication of TBR for almost a year. Many in the Bhutanese Diaspora also helped. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) was always a great support. Now we have stopped printing the hard copies of TBR due to a lack of funds. As far as the international support is concerned, it has always played an instrumental role and we are always grateful to those who offer extended support.
Q. What is your vision for Bhutan in terms of media freedom?
Mishra: After the general elections in Bhutan in 2008 the state of media freedom in the country changed. We have always welcomed such positive changes in the media sector in the country. However, there are still beaches and Bhutan has yet to guarantee complete media freedom. As a result, some journalists in the country practice self-censorship. The government of Bhutan should not try and escape from guaranteeing media freedom because the public has a right to information and freedom of speech and expression.
Q: Do you think media in exile could ever have an impact on the situation within their home country and if so, to what extent?
Mishra: We provided one of the major sources of information both inside and outside of the country. Often, news stories from Bhutan were bias-driven and the public was denied access to balanced, authentic and ethical news stories. Because we are publishing uncensored and impartial news we are able to fulfill a need. We continue to try to inform the Bhutanese about democracy and its values. I cannot imagine how the situation would be if by chance we stop our news service. Without us the public would have to depend on news agencies, newspapers and online news sites, which disseminate bias and censored news from Bhutan.
Q: What do you see as the future strategy for media personnel like yourself?
Mishra: I need to keep the commitment alive and continue to sharpen my skills in journalism and media freedom advocacy. There is always a need to expand our networking with other exiled journalists. This will help strengthen our capabilities and it will perhaps lead to a stronger network for exchanging views and campaigning for media freedom. We will also continue to lobby the international media bodies who support media freedom. For me the goal is complete media freedom in Bhutan.
Q: Have you made (or intend to make) any contact with the Bhutan authorities as part of your push for freedom of expression in Bhutan?
Mishra: It is a challenge to make worthy and meaningful correspondence with the Bhutan authorities for they really don’t entertain to call us as Bhutanese citizens. Their view is that we were and are illegal immigrants. We continue to be tagged as non-Bhutanese. Sometimes we are labeled as terrorists. However we continue to try to make contact with the Bhutan authorities, mostly via e-mail, but have yet to receive a response. This does not mean we will stop trying. We are still committed to establishing constructive and positive contacts with the Bhutanese authorities to discuss our call for complete media freedom in the country.
Note: Anyone who wants to contact TP Mishra to discuss the setting up of a global media in exile association should message him via twitter.
Adam LevittAdam Levitt, who carried out this interview, is based in the UK and has recently graduated with a BA (Hons) degree at the University of Manchester studying History with Sociology. He ntends to further his studies with an MA in Broadcast Journalism later this year. Levitt is carrying out a series of interviews for this site as part of a work experience placement.