A few questions before we go bi-monthly. Not to worry, the questions are fairly simple really. All you need to do is read the instructions carefully. Ready? Here we go: Most of you picked up newspapers this morning. You glanced through the front page that carried the main story, with the big, bold headline in black ink on white paper. Perhaps you perused only the lead paragraph or you went through the entire article. Now, answer these questions. 1. Who wrote the article? 2. Why don’t you find senior journalists writing articles anymore?
OK, your time’s up!
How many of you left the space meant for the answers blank? Don’t panic, relax! We in the media fraternity are used to readers like you. We know you rarely notice the byline on a newspaper/magazine story. And rightly so, for you’re more interested in the information than the person providing it. But, having said that, how many of you are content with the information that’s being provided to you? No! You don’t have to answer that. And no, it’s not a trick question.
Politicians, we won’t entertain your answers because we are aware of the reporters you loathe and the ones you love. Yes, we know, you look at the byline as soon as you’ve read the big, bold headline in black ink on white paper. So, please stay mum on anything remotely concerning the media as you have ‘graciously’ done for so long. We know that you know that journalism is like politics, in that you will be lashed for being right and lashed for being wrong. We understand it sucks either way. We don’t want to drag you into this and if you still harbor a doubt, well, let’s just agree that rolling in the mud is not the best way to get clean.
That settled, there may be some amongst you (who’re not politicians) delighting in the unique style of passionate writers/reporters/journalists who take pride in the back grounding, research and reporting to bring a story to life. And there may be some amongst you who cringe while reading stories that are half-baked, questionable and lopsided. These are stories by reporters who’ve just ventured into the profession, unsure not only about what they’ve written but also about whether they’ll be handed their paychecks at the end of the month.
The point so many of us have tried to drive home is that media houses are embattled, the print media in particular and private media houses to be specific. Plagued by lack of advertisements, shaken by government circulars, challenged by the daunting task of staying afloat, we have, for quite a while now, been a focus of concern. Now disillusioned senior media professionals have moved into other fields to make a living and the new ones, because they’ve already bought the ticket, are left with no other options but to take the ride – bumpy as it may be.
Yet, nobody seems to notice. And nobody seems to care. A few publications have folded; the rest are following suit, but we reckon, as long as the remaining keep publishing – even without paying their staff for months on end – the world, as we now know, will keep on turning. But eventually when the next government is voted in, you might not get to ‘meet the press.’
There was a time just before Bhutan’s transition to democracy when newspapers and magazines were considered vital. Today, the fourth estate is fighting the mother of all battles just to register an equitable plot. It isn’t so much about the bylines or about disillusioned senior journalists. It isn’t even about the people who are dedicated to their craft, who produce the words you read, and who are prepared to stand behind them. It’s about all people having voices and a place to express their voices, unhindered and unafraid. It’s about people forging identities for themselves. It’s about strengthening one of the oldest democratic institutions that contributes to a healthy democracy.
In the end, there is nothing more tragic than the media dying under circumstances which could have been easily avoided had the government come up with proper policies to bolster its growth rather than appearing to speak softly, but with a big stick in hand.