Bhutan: A wrong policy on language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun May 20 16:07:11 UTC 2007

A wrong policy

 Editorial 19 May, 2007 - The media play a critical role in a functioning
democracy. Recognising this, the government has taken encouraging steps to
foster the growth of our media, particularly newspapers at this stage.
But, while the policy is well intended, some strategies give rise to
serious concern and need to be questioned.

The five-year tax holiday will be welcomed by the newspaper companies
because it will help them get over initial problems. The exemption of
sales tax and import duty for machinery is likely to encourage the
printing industry at a time when fronting is a trend in the industry. And
the rule to advertise in Dzongkha rightly reflects the important policy
aimed at developing the national language.

We ask that the government continues to encourage private and independent
media growth and to ensure that Dzongkha moves forward, maintaining a high
quality. Government subsidy is critical and the media is subsidized in a
variety of ways in many countries. Subsidies are given in the form of
newsprint, tax holidays, and media education for example. Sometimes it is
given in the form of a direct budget like the much-quoted BBC model in
Britain or the NHK in Japan. Many governments, including India, subsidised

Bhutanese newspapers, those that are existing and those that will come in
the future, will need subsidy for some time. Dzongkha editions,
particularly, need to be nurtured and this could even be grants or direct
purchase and distribution of the newspapers by the government. The idea is
that media should reach the people. In Bhutan we have to make that special
attempt to reach far-flung areas.

Today's problem is the government's advertising rule. Bhutanese newspapers
will never break even on sales because of the small population and even
smaller readership. They will always depend on advertising revenue. And,
here, the government has issued an incomprehensible rule that advertising
will be given to the lowest bidders. This sends a wrong message.

Now the message is that newspapers should cut down the cost of production
as well as content to bid cheap and get advertising. All other newspapers
around the world do everything to boost circulation and to reach as many
people as possible to get the advertising because advertising, obviously,
is based on the readership. With the new rule our newspapers will get
advertising if they cut down production and distribution and, thus, cost.
Such a rule undermines the advertising organization and the public and,
eventually, the quality of the newspaper.

In the new scenario it is likely that advertisements, largely government
notices, will not reach the people. The newspapers themselves need not
reach anyone. Giving advertisements to the lowest bidder is -a concept so
unique that its basis is worth more scrutiny. What is the criteria for the
decision? It is a decision that has come even after an entire ministry was
created to advise on media policy and direct media trends. We have an
information department dedicated to media growth, media laws and rules,
and a media authority to ensure the health of the media.

The government's policy in the past has been public service, balanced
development, reaching the unreached. This can only be done through
policies that increase media presence, not by cutting them down.

There is nothing [more?] disastrous than an unreasonable policy


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