Fourth estate crumbling

Something is wrong, seriously wrong with the media, private newspapers in particular. The abundance of inspiration, drive, and sense of purpose when the country’s first private newspapers were launched have fizzled out in the course of over six years. The bold arrival of the private newspapers with a bang is gradually dying with a whimper.

Something has gone wrong, obviously. The architects of media policies blame the mushrooming of numerous newspapers, beyond the carrying capacity of the market, for spelling its own doom.

The explosion of newspapers in the country, they believe, was driven by profit motives, if not political reasons. Quality they say has been compromised. Young and untrained journalists are on the payroll. Media is going down the drain.

Circulation and sales have dropped to its lowest. Advertisement is a rarity. Employees are being laid off to cut cost. It’s as if like everyone is waiting for the first paper to go down. Yet, no one is easily giving up. Pride, lives of employees, investments, and journalism are at stake – after all.

Perhaps, something went wrong from the day one of liberalizing the media license. For one, policymakers didn’t see this coming – 12 newspapers, five radio stations, a few magazines that come and go on their own whims, and two more private television licenses that are on the waiting list. By the time a teeming number of newspapers started coming out, there was no going back on the liberalization policy. It was too late.

So, the next plan was to bring the number down, to three or four best newspapers even as new newspaper licenses were being given out. The idea was to leave it to the market forces to decide – poor quality newspaper will die in the competition, eventually. It is the survival of the fittest. Sadly, in Bhutan, for the media, the government is the biggest market.

Newspapers critical in their new coverage are targeted, subtly though, by severing their very lifeline – advertisement. The consequence is there for all to see. Investigative journalism, not that Bhutanese media is really known for it, whatever that is there will be nipped in the bud.

Media’s role as a watchdog will be reduced to a mere puppet. Worse still, the young media may be forced to compromise on its ethics to survive. If things continue this way, it will not be far when media will become politicized or controlled by a few influential people. The worst is waiting to happen.

The problem is media policymakers do not see it this way or something of their doing. There’s no long term vision. Paucity of ideas or imagination?  Lip service or feigned desire to develop media won’t work. Only genuine commitment and action will.

 

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