At the outset of his election campaign in Thimphu, the DPT president and former Prime Minister vented out his anger over the criticism brought in the media, of his government for the last five years in power. Addressing a crowd in the YDF hall, Jigme Y Thinley said to the media houses, “I will not leave you”.
It is another indicant of attack on press freedom in the country, if DPT is chosen to form the government for next term too. His accusation was that the news media and social media are altogether engaged in ‘anti-national activities.’ If so, is Jigme Y Thinley ready to ban the media houses or sue them for their anti-national conduct?
The other parties who contested in the primary round also felt the pang of his diatribe. None could agree on his remark that the media is creating regionalism and rift between the government and the King, the government and the people or the like. DCT spokesperson, Dr. Tandin Dorji said that it is baseless allegation upon the media. Contrary to what JYT said, the media is actually educating the mass against regionalism or regional politics.
The Bhutanese press has been critical on some corrupted government officials, the mismanagement of development funds under the DPT government since 2008.
While Tenzing Lamsang and his media house has been too vocal to point out the fallacies of DPT government, Bhutanomics is always in the left wing to cry foul against JYT and his team. Kuensel, the national daily has not spared the rod to thrash any ill-conceived ideas of the powerful people. It appears the press has been trying hard to exercise the freedom of press and freedom of speech as enshrined in the constitution. If the threat is what it meant, Jigme Thinley is trying to go to the power where there is no opposition and no press to throw water at him.
Jigme Thinley in the capacity of prime minister of first elected government once said, “the media is playing a role of opposition.” This was perhaps the soft version of what is now a sadistic remark, a jaundiced eye upon his critic.
According to JYT, the Bhutanese media is the fourth organ of government, not fourth state. Hence the inference, an organ of the government is not entitled to criticize the government under which it is operating.
Concomitantly, the national security act of Bhutan is applicable to any anti-national activities, if considered to be so. The anti-national activities are punishable by law, either as life sentence or eviction from the country. Going by the history of its application in 1992/93, these ‘media anti-nationals’ who criticized the government should be thrown behind the bar or evicted out from the country, with statement signed as ‘I am leaving the country on my own will.’
Can we imagine that episode to repeat, as happened in the 1990s? Are the scribes in Bhutan ready to see that befall on them?
It is the time for Journalist Association of Bhutan to act and seek attention of other journalist federation around the world if the JYT threat continue to grow and if press freedom under such nascent democracy is jeopardized.