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BNS Should Be Saved

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An epilogue, particularly of a sad note is emotionally painful to write; much worse, if you hold the subject dear to heart. In this particular case, I am not sure whether to write an epilogue or an obituary, it could be both or neither; which makes my job even more challenging.

The late afternoon news of January 12 about the dissolution of Bhutan News Service (BNS) may have surprised many, but to me it was pure shock. The BNS which existed since 2006 has ended its journey or at best postponed its activities eternally. The decision was arrived due to human constraints and lack of financial resources, according to the BNS editorial. The news spurred many questions and curiosity among its well wishers in general, and its collaborators in particular.

BNS was a Bhutanese media organization formed in Kathmandu, Nepal on May 2006. Founded and funded so long by young and passionate media volunteers and enthusiasts of Bhutan, BNS was the first online news portal that was conceived and operated by any Bhutanese. Its launching had been a panacea during the dry days when we had to travel distances to deliver press releases to newspaper agents. The emergence of BNS enhanced the ability of Bhutanese organizations in exile to express and disseminate news at a different level. The Bhutanese culture in general is devoid of any culture for reading and writing. The arrival of BNS filled that void to some extent. For the first time, it provided a vital platform for intellectual engagement, socialization, honing skills, community values and belief systems, cognition and acquisition of aesthetic knowledge which could be simultaneously acquired and sustained into embodied learning; and for casting or contesting ideas and opinions in the public domain. As one of the core dimensions – a vital agent of our struggle, it was the interface and a vehicle for legitimizing our concerns and expression. Its existence ensured timely reportage which kept the community informed and engaged. Behind the purview of the public, the BNS was the primary media outlet of our movement and it continued to give voice to the suppressed, muted and the neglected. 

BNS was more of a package of challenges in the name of inheritance than opportunities. The journey was a crusade from scratch – a journey that began with cycles and slippers, scrap paper notes and broken pencils. It is to their credit that within a very short time, the BNS could chart its own course and become larger than the news portal that it was. It was the most widely visited Bhutanese web portal, even surpassing the range of readership gained by Kuensel, the weekly national newspaper of Bhutan.

Engaging in media from outside presents more subtleties than what it seems on surface. Beyond reportage, BNS’s role must also be appreciated against the backdrop of the landscape on which it was operating. It catered to a demographic specificity whose spread and setting extended over distant places; and often such a landscape is intersected by resources constraints, location, community of practice and essentialized diasporic sensitivities which always echoes a longing, simultaneously, in search of a new identity. As emerging members of a freshly planted, persecuted immigrant community, who have been uprooted from conflict ridden situations at home and living outside among unfamiliar surroundings and circumstances, they invoke unfriendly reactions against the perpetrators that be. In the long course, naturally, such tendencies tend to shape media orientation, philosophy, coverage and activism. The peculiarity of context exposes media workers to intruding vulnerabilities, and serious role conflicts, but from which it is hard to remain impervious or to disengage from or not be emotionally involved. Their activism comes at the expense of legitimate ideologies of media professionalism or job neutrality. It also does not make any sense either in the dynamics of operation of media production and distribution enterprise. Thus, the internal dynamics of exile journalism exposes media workers to the dilemma of dual consciousness as they try to find a balance between professionalism and actual practice; which could turn out to be burdensome or even self exploitative, at times.

This is the challenge and struggle our media workers have secretly endured while making sure that we, the audience have news ready on our plate; a struggle psychologically much larger than the mere act of collecting and reporting news. In this light, it is not too uncanny to call the work of BNS illuminating because even through the midst of their struggle they continued to serve by setting an agenda for community construction far away from home.

Fifteen years later, the journey has come far enough to rest, which is unfortunate and very upsetting. It casts a dark shadow ahead and portrays disturbing contradictions and inconsistencies in the way we do things. The maintenance of BNS in Nepal, where nothing was affordable and its discontinuance now from the US, where everything seems doable, offers a sharp contradiction and a stranger paradox. No one probably wished that this day was coming but as we speak the fact here, we are letting an organ of our movement, scuttle away from our own hands. Community engagement and leadership determine success in any enterprise. The Bhutanese should take pride in the achievements accomplished by our media workers. They have done their part to the extent humanly possible. A proportionate attention and recognition of their prolonged engagement and contribution is long overdue. Even as they were inscribing their own identity as media workers coming from a unique community, they were steadfast in the mission and; and in doing so, in many instances, they paved the social pathways and led by example. Unfortunately, BNS is now an entity whose wings have fractured under the weight of economics of operationalizing the media, and they are consciously reaching out to the community for direcion. Even though past experience shows that media-public collaboration in our context is not too spontaneous, it is hoped that such a partnership could develop in order to save this important entity which definitely is one of the core agents of our cause. If we have a reigning aspiration that our cause should stay dominant over trivial occupations; if collectively, we can rise to make this imaginable, it should also be collectively attainable.

Editor’s note: The author is not affiliated with BNS, and views expressed here are his own.

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