The preparation for the upcoming SAARC summit is almost over. More than 450 delegates are expected to visit Bhutan for the 16th SAARC summit to be held in Thimphu, the capital city, from April 28 to 29. The capacity of the summit hall is 597 seats including 106 for media personnel, though 300-plus journalists are expected to reach the venue. Most of the delegates are ready, if not they have reached the venue already.
The two-day summit will be held in the summit hall while the rest of the meetings will take place in the conference hall (Banquet hall). Besides the key delegates like heads of states, foreign ministers, foreign secretaries, programme directors, SAARC directors and media personnel from the member countries, observers and media personnel from nine non-member countries will be in the capital for the summit. About 40 delegates are expected from each of the member countries.
Foreign media is already playing up a possibility of India and Pakistan dominating the summit, especially on cross border terrorism, but there are gossips in the air that the cross cutting problem of climate change, which is the theme of the 16th SAARC summit, would overshadow politics.
As the conference is supposed to be held in Bhutan, the suppressed ethnic groups, including its “refugees” in Nepal and in the Diaspora, are expecting an otherwise help from journalists attending the summit. The free and fair access to foreign journalists has been, and remains intimidated from the regime’s side in Bhutan. At a time when the government is claiming the fostering of “true” democracy in the country, this opportunity on hand, might turn as an issue of research for journalists attending the summit.
Hardly, there have been the cases of the other side of Bhutan in media light. It is truly difficult for a foreign journalist to carry on independent reporting in the country. In many of the cases, foreign journalists who are given permission for the reporting purpose, are misguided or manipulated by the government officials. Only a handful of foreign correspondents are given permission to continue their reporting by basing Bhutanese soil.
The journalists attending the summit should be already well-aware to the fact that Bhutan has been gaining popularity at the international arena with its fabricated gossip of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Nepalese journalists, in particular, attending the Summit are equally sentient to the stories of Bhutanese refugees camped in Nepal for the last two decades.
An extra one hour in-depth reporting, besides reporting the summit events, might be enough for a foreign journalist to well-tell about the other-side of the last Shangri-La. Field studies have become must for any foreigners to explain about fostering of democracy in the country. Nepali journalists, being more aware to such an issue, can play a “role model” here to bring unheard voices to media light. The government is likely to bring various “attractive” packages to journalists—could be manipulating them to visit scenic places, take them to some tourists’ areas, among others. This is a way to execute journalists’ precious time, thus, a journalist wishing to report on some ground realities might want to take the opportunity to focus on meeting public or various sources that can explain about the other side.
The state-run Kuensel has been a straightforward mouthpiece of the government for years and it continues to run on the same platform. However, some of the private publications and journalists have stood as great critics to the government’s wrong deeds. In case of the journalists wish to report on some extra issues, besides the event in the summit, these sources might turn very resourceful.
In a way, it is reported by media in Bhutan that the participants of the summit will be introduced to the country’s guiding philosophy of gross national happiness (GNH). The government has been trying to inspire the visiting heads of member states to embrace this philosophy that Bhutan intends to submit as a possible development model for the region.
Foreign ministry’s Thinley Dorji, who is also a public communications team member for the SAARC summit, said the country participated in numerous international events and conferences to discuss GNH, but none within the region. “Since they’re coming to Bhutan, we’d like to share the GNH feeling,” Thinley Dorji said. “We can’t guarantee they’ll all be willing to adopt our guiding philosophy.”
Above all, the role of journalists attending the summit is significant, in a sense that they can carry on research about the fabricated philosophy of GNH. A lie never becomes a truth and journalists, for sure, are strictly guided by the standard set-norms of playing with “facts and truths.” Hopes for suppressed ethnic communities, including the camped people, have once again revived. Let the journalists tell the truth to the world after studying ground realities in Bhutan, provided that the summit is not politicized. Happy reporting, friends!