Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The Director Dated: 15.6.’11
Sub: BICMA’s Repeated Dictums Regarding “Valueless Pictures and Contravention of the Code of Ethics” by The Journalist
I’d like to respond in a categorical fashion, due to the many ‘repeated notification’ and ‘discussions’ as stated in your most recent lecture entitled “Final Cautionary Notice,” issued on June 13, 2011.
To retract, the first notification I received as the Chief Editor of The Journalist was one pertaining to a complaint lodged against the paper by the Opposition Leader. The incident had taken place in my absence, so I’ll leave that out, plus it had nothing to do with editorial content.
The first notification I received pertaining to objectionable content was subjected as a “Cautionary Notice.” The caution was regarding depictions of cigarettes and a “Man Smoking.” The reasons for the caution as cited were “insensitive and offensive to the good taste and decency of the public.” Furthermore, the caution states that it “also contravenes the section 6.2 Social Responsibility of the Code of Ethics for Journalists and the Rules on Content.” The cautionary notice ends with a generous reminder to be “Mindful” of existing laws and regulations in force while doing stories on Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco in the future.
The second notice received is stated as being a continuation of the earlier cautionary notice, requesting a meet to discuss “Pertinent Content Issues.”
The latest notice received is titled “Final Cautionary Notice.” It takes offense to three articles. The article titled “New Tobacco Guidelines Supposedly Beneficial.” Here it is not specified whether the article was the issue, as there is nothing else mentioned. But I presume it must be the picture of a butt of a cigarette emanating smoke. The other two articles cited are “Aiiie… Goodbye to Booze?” and “In Support of the Tobacco Act: Part I.”
The objections stated are reminders of repeated notifications and discussions, and the continuing engagement of The Journalist in publishing such pictures, which the notice states as “Contravention of the Code of Ethics for Journalists. It elucidates the amorality of the act by further stating that in all the articles, “The publication of pictures does not add any value to the news article in question.” Here, the Code of Ethics is again reinforced. The final paragraph states: “As this is a repeated act, consider this as the final caution notice to the Editor and Management of The Journalist from BICMA.
If the paper continues to publish such pictures contravening the code, we will consider such act as an intended Non-Compliance of the Authority’s directives and we will be forced to take action as per the BICM Act, 2006.”
I’m highlighting the above to show the sheer doggedness and determination of BICMA to hold the act sacred and sacrosanct, equaling blasphemy should such SHOCKING and GRAPHIC pictures are published, and of course, the more than zealously guarded and ferociously executed role of playing the caring nanny to the Bhutanese public at large. (Here we have to assume the average educated Bhutanese reader’s exposure to all forms of media-mediums as literally non-existent).
Below is the clause in the act which was your reference point to the questionable and objectionable articles.
6.2 Social Responsibility
A Journalist shall:
a. Recognize their obligation to the public and to the country;
b. Believe in the freedom of media as an overriding right to honor the public’s right to know and thus shall pledge themselves to promote, guard and defend this freedom, both from internal or external influences and interferences;
c. Understand that any commitment other than service to the public and the country undermines trust and credibility;
d. Provide a full range of information to enable the public to make enlightened decisions;
e. Apply for accreditation while also encouraging other professionals to be accredited and
f. Not publish any matter which offends against good taste and decency. In particular, he shall avoid publishing matter which is:
(a) Obscene, vulgar or sexually explicit; or
(b) Culturally insensitive, having no regard to the norms of Bhutanese society and its values; or which has the effect of glamorizing or glorifying:
(i) Gratuitous violence;
(ii) Gambling; or
(iii) The consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
The above guidelines speak for themselves as does the photographs in the articles that were objected to. The articles were and are related to The Tobacco Control Act, quite easily one of the most controversial bills ever enacted, that people feel (and not The Journalist) violates basic and fundamental rights of the Bhutanese as enshrined in the Constitution.
In light of this act that has been deemed “Draconian” by the Opposition Leader; that was accepted as being harsh by the Prime Minister himself, that was highlighted in the opening session of Parliament by the Speaker even though it was absent from the agenda because of the consequences it had on the people, leaving the Minister for Works and Human Settlement, though he did not mention the act per se, but hinted at it in his address of caution while implementing laws by the legislators most sensible and with full research before enacting bills in haste were all in light of the Tobacco Act that has imprisoned more than 30 otherwise decent working citizens.
The Minister even warned the MPs and the nation of Bhutan turning into a “Police State” if such laws were enacted without deep thought, recourse, deliberation, research and extensive discussions. For in the end, the parties most affected are first and foremost, the common Bhutanese person, who is being represented in Parliament by their respective representatives.
When that many people were arrested, and when a forum has emerged online discussing the act and its ramifications, when the country’s image abroad is taking a beating, it is ridiculous to try and portray what are valid but harmless images as “not related to news” or as in “violation” because if you read the articles, the content speaks of the pros and cons of the act and its consequences, is fair and balanced giving rise to healthy debates and most pertinently, reflecting public concern.
The images are not advertisements to encourage consumption, nor are any of the images in any way, shape or form, glamorizing the product. It is but a mere reflection of reality without exaggeration or ignorance. We are a platform of the people, for the people and by the people as far as there are issues that makes an impact on the very fabric of our country – its people.
The imagery of glasses/jugs of beer falls in the same category. In the articles mentioned, the stories were about alcohol and its consequences. Not about encouraging or glamorizing alcohol. It would be hypocritical to term these ‘in-context images’ as offensive. The Bhutanese traditional way of celebration, as is the custom, is offering the local drink.
The presence of hundreds and thousands of bars has the Bhutanese people drinking for any number of reasons. That is the reality on the ground, and if we do not reflect reality as it is and not as it ‘ought’ to be, than really we are failing in our duties as objective journalists. In this light, the part on Social Responsibility is a role we are executing to the best of our abilities, and quite regularly in the face of stiff resistance from parties with vested agendas.
To continue, I highlight some illuminating guidelines.
6.4 Non - Discrimination
6.4.1 A Journalist shall:
a. Defend the independence of all journalists from those seeking influence or control over news content and gather and report news without fear or favor, and vigorously resist undue influence from any outside forces, including advertisers, sources, and story subjects, powerful individuals, and special interest groups;
b. Stand by the principle that all persons are equal before law and hence shall not be swayed by any political, economic, business or other social prejudice;
c. Resist those who would seek to buy or politically influence news contents or who seek to intimidate those who gather and disseminate news;
d. Determine news contents solely through editorial judgment and not as a result of outside influence;
e. Resist any self-interest or peer pressure that might erode journalistic duty and service to the public and to the country;
f. Recognize that sponsorship of the news will not be used in any way to determine, restrict, or manipulate contents;
g. Refuse to allow the interests of ownership or management to influence news judgment and contents inappropriately;
h. Defend the rights of the free press for all journalists, recognizing that any professional or government licensing of journalists is a violation of that freedom;
i. Present the news fairly and impartially, placing primary value on significance and relevance;
k. Treat all subjects of news coverage with respect and dignity, showing particular compassion to victims of crime or tragedy;
l. Present analytical reporting based on professional perspective, not personal bias; and
m. Avoid taking sides in political debates.
1. Legal Basis
Upholding the Universal rights of citizens to information, freedom of speech and expression and independence of the media, and wishing to foster the highest professional standards of
Journalism, promote public understanding of and confidence in the Bhutanese media, and the responsibilities of the media and the journalists.
6.1 Professional Integrity
A Journalist shall:
a. Present the news with integrity and decency, avoiding real or perceived conflicts of interest, and respect the dignity and intelligence of the audience as well as the subjects of news;
b. Not use any information or materials, obtained for public information, for personal use and interest;
c. Not function or operate while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other intoxicants that might undermine the objectivity of the news and information;
d. Clearly label opinion and commentary;
e. Guard against extended coverage of events or individuals that fail to significantly advance a story, place the event in context, or add to the public knowledge;
f. Refrain from contacting participants in violent situations while the situation is in progress;
g. Refrain from using surreptitious newsgathering techniques, unless there is an overriding public interest;
h. Refrain from paying news sources that have vested interest in a story;
i. Refrain from accepting gifts, favors, compensation or any other form of entertainment from those who might seek to influence coverage;
j. Not engage in activities that may compromise his integrity or independence;
I believe that our conduct, as far as the Code of Ethics for Journalists is concerned, has been nothing short of a principled and moral approach that befits the Code of Conduct for Journalists as well as BICMA guidelines, whereby stories are articulated and debated, keeping in mind the relevance of issues to the people, and of course, the government. The benefit of the doubt is never taken away.
The spaces in our pages have been created to provide room for people who can write and who want to write concerning issues that affect them. The Journalist has the highest number of commentaries and opinions, columns in which the writer enjoys his or her freedom of speech, but with the clear distinction that the article does not represent the views of The Journalist.
The disclaimer is clearly spelt out in the accreditation, accorded in the Weekly Tab, which is the editorial page at the bottom footer note.
I personally believe that the offense taken by the authority and the reasons justified do not do any justice to the said articles; if anything, the notifications have caused a sense of plunge in the general morale of not only the reporters, but the contributing writers and authors who are all responsible citizens of this country and are doing what they can to help what they believe to be the wrongful imprisonment of innocent people and turning decent folks into criminals.
As the editor of this paper, my fundamental charge is to provide a platform for voices that fight for the greater good. That is my code of conduct and a principle that is non-negotiable. If I am deemed to be detrimental to the general populace of this country by broaching subjects that are the talk of the day, I’d be fooling myself and by that conduct, cheating my readers.
As stated earlier, The Journalist, so long as I am the editor, will always remain a platform for issues, (good or bad), keeping in mind that it is a responsible weekly paper that provides a platform for the people, by the people and of the people.
Jurmi Chhowing, Chief Editor, The Journalist
(The Response From BICMA: 22.6.22)
SUB: Response to the 'Final Cautionary Notice' issued by BICMA to The Journalist
This has reference to your letter dated 15th june, 2001 on the above cited subject.
BICMA has examined your response and has decided not to accept it as you have misunderstood the intent of "Final Cautionary Notice" issued to the Editor and Management of Journalist vide letter No. BICMA/MEDIA/Prm-J/11/2233 dated June 13, 2011. Please note that the notice was issued to THE JOURNALIST as a directive for compliance.
(I might add here that prior to my letter to the director, we had a brief phone conversation in which the director told me to respond formally. Isn't writing a letter formal? And in the case of the notice being a directive for compliance, what was the need for examining the response and then deciding?
This does not bode well for any of the papers.)