The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed to learn of the mass resignation of all journalists from the Bhutan Times, after sharp disagreements on editorial process and content with a newly appointed chief executive.
According to reports from IFJ partners, ownership of Bhutan’s first privately owned newspaper changed hands early in October, after the company ran up accumulated losses of about USD 116,000. Wancha Sangey, the new chief executive, has since been seeking to impose his will on the editorial staff, reportedly causing serious demoralisation within the ranks.
Among the journalists who have resigned is the editor, Gopilal Acharya, who has reportedly said he was quitting to “protect the professional values and principles of independent journalism in Bhutan”.
Sangey is credited with the view that freedom of speech is very important, though not at the cost of forgetting Bhutanese identity. “You can slur a ministry if it is wrong, but not Bhutan as a nation,” he is reported to have said.
Since taking charge, Sangey has reportedly sat in on editorial meetings and publicly upbraided reporters and editorial writers. He has directed administrative staff to mark all internal and external communications to him, even when these concern editorial matters. And he has issued an advertisement in the newspaper asking that public comments on content be sent directly to his email address or phoned in on his mobile number.
“The IFJ wishes the Bhutan Times well and would greatly appreciate any strategy that helps it overcome its current financial difficulties and establish it as a viable news platform working in the public interest,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
“But we are deeply concerned that the new chief executive of the newspaper is following an entirely wrong tack in seeking to turn around the newspaper.
“No successful newspaper can be run by assaulting the professional morale of journalists and questioning the basic premises on which they conduct their daily tasks.”