The webinar was conducted to understand whether our journalists have a supportive work environment and the role of stakeholders in safeguarding their wellbeing on March 29th 2022 as a part of Multi Media Journalism class of 2021-2022 . This was a first webinar of its kind on the well-being of journalists conducted for the Bhutanese media fraternity.
Ms. Namgay Zam, Executive Director, Journalists’ Association of Bhutan (JAB), moderated the webinar. She acknowledged in her opening remark that the webinar was timely for journalist to come together to talk about safety and wellbeing. She also added that JAB will find take-aways on what can be implemented or initiated by JAB for facilitating wellbeing of journalists.
Mr. Needrup Zangpo, Executive Director, Bhutan Media Foundation (BMF) also agreed that there was a need for such a discussion and the webinar was a perfect opportunity. He shared that it was a high time to talk about importance of wellbeing for journalists. He added wellbeing is very important for everyone and especially for journalists and emphasized the need to figure out how to achieve it.
He posed questions like are the Bhutanese journalists comfortable, healthy and happy about their profession, working environment, news room?
He set a tone with a story done by a journalist which has only anecdotes and lacks statistical data/hard data. He highlighted that data driven policy intervention is the need of the hour to bring about wellbeing of journalists.
He categorized wellbeing as physical and mental Wellbeing:
- Legal framework point of view, the safe guard drawn from the constitution of Bhutan
- Professional safeguards drawn provision from the ‘Code of Ethics’ formulated by Department of Information & Media (DoIM) and JAB.
- How well is their news room doing?
- How well are they paid?
- Support structure in the news room
- Personal habits in terms of guidance or professional help, PR
All of these factors, he said, directly impact the safety and wellbeing of the journalists.
Ms. Tashi Dema, Senior Journalist, Kuensel, talked about what it means to be a female journalist in Bhutan and what does wellbeing mean to her. She pointed out if news consumers knew about how journalists find and cover news, they would also understand the hardships they go through.
“Journalists are susceptible to all sort of mental and emotional and psychological wellbeing as well”.
She acknowledged that Bhutanese journalists are safe to an extent compared to their counterparts in the region because they don’t take risk.
She shared that there are a lot of Bhutanese journalists who go to the bed worrying about the complaint calls for the stories they cover despite it being factually correct. Not only them but their family members also suffer stress with calls related to the stories they covered. This she mentioned was a big issue plaguing the mental wellbeing of the Bhutanese journalists who cover controversial stories.
“With my 17 years of experience, and someone who has attempted to do stories that deserves to be told, I will say it’s stressful to be a journalist in Bhutan and when motherhood is used against you it becomes stressful as a women journalists” – Tashi Dema
She mentioned if a story doesn’t put a good light on an organization or a person, it is regarded as ‘sensitive’ and it makes journalist question themselves on whether to cover the story or not. She added that it will be beneficial if concerned authorities like JAB, BMF could initiate a discussion on what is a sensitive story and come to consensus on it so journalists don’t confuse themselves on individual interpretation.
She shared covering stories about harassment, abuse and crime takes a huge toll on mental health for journalists. Empathetic journalist suffers more from hyper vigilance with day to day affairs.
Mr. Gopilal Acharya, Freelance Journalist pointed that people in the Bhutanese media fraternity never formally discussed issues related to wellbeing of journalists. He acknowledged that no journalist can function in utopian environment as all the elements in it calls for stress. He pointed out that journalism is a different profession altogether where challenges surpass over other careers.
The biggest pressure the Bhutanese journalist face, he said, is self-censorship, small society syndrome which makes journalists do away from covering stories that are unconformable.
He said the Bhutanese society has a kind of misplaced compassion that impedes journalists’ work.
He pointed that there is no need to compare journalism with other parts of the world but if the journalism practiced in Bhutan suffices the need of journalism in Bhutan then it is enough.
He also pointed out that journalists are not really aware of their right, duties, code of ethics. There is a need to educate journalists; media houses should train their journalist.
He encouraged the journalist to cover bold stories, ask tough questions and draw inspiration from His Majesty’s decree aimed at letting media outlets operate autonomously and allowing for the growth of a professional media. He also cautioned against news sources that ley traps and lie to run their political agendas and asked them to distinguish between activism and journalism.
“Stress is a part of journalism but that shouldn’t deter us from doing our job”– Gopilal Acharya
Mr. Sonam Penjor, Phuentsholing Bureau Reporter, Bhutan Broadcasting Service shared about the workload of a journalist as bureau correspondent, where they have to multitask.
He requested JAB to have an insurance scheme and the media houses to have risk allowances for the coverage done on difficult times like natural disaster/pandemic.
He expressed grievances on the media houses not supporting journalist and reporters with the PPE kit to cover the stories in the pandemic and similarly there’s not a lot of regard for their wellbeing, health and safety.
He shared that training on the use of broadcast equipment and its maintenance/protection must be given by the media houses.
Ms. Namgay Zam, ED, JAB acknowledged and highlighted the points raised by Mr. Sonam on the insurance scheme and protective gear to the journalist in times of pandemic.
She added that JAB has taken steps towards protecting its members by hiring a lawyer to handle the legal matters of journalist who come seeking support to insure their wellbeing.
Q&A and Open Discussion
Faculty from Royal Thimphu College raised question on the sustainability and economic insecurity of media. Mr. Needup responded saying that there is Media Enterprise Development budget from the royal government of Bhutan to ensure the sustainability of the media houses.
He added that strategies will be placed in future on three major areas on online news coverage i.e. content development, online transition, widening reach and integration of pay wall to generate income.
A discussion on how can a journalist be sued and how can they protect themselves ensued. Panelists shared that truth will be their defense. Evidence and the constitutional and provisions in the journalists code of ethics also help protect journalist.
They also shared points on the safety of the source.
Moderator also added how the burden of self-censorship is higher and women journalist weigh in more when covering sensitive stories.
Issue on mental health was also discussed and a student from Sherubtse asked if media houses have some provision to help journalist through mental health issues caused by their work. Ms. Tashi pointed that media houses should make arrangement to discuss their mental health without stigma and hesitation. If the issue persists then they should be encouraged and facilitated to seek further support.
Panelists agreed that economic stability of the media houses impact the sustainability of the journalists, thus, directly impacting the wellbeing, so they suggested that concerned stake holders and media houses come together to find solutions to curb these issues.
In terms of building a close-knit journalist’s society who empathizes with fellow journalist suffering trauma and mental health issues, JAB and BMF must come up with advocacy measures and ideas said Mr. Needup.
After the webinar discussion, the findings of the survey, jointly conducted by BMCI and JAB on the perception of well-being among Bhutanese journalists, were also shared by MMJ trainees.
The webinar was attended by about 88 participants including journalists & managers from various media houses, media students & faculty from Sherubtse College and Royal Thimphu College, and freelance journalists.
The webinar was organized by BMCI as a part of the ongoing Multi-Media Journalism program supported by UNESCO/IPDC UNESCO New Delhi Office