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Changes in government ad policy threaten Bhutan's independent media

(IFJ/IFEX) - 21 August 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists joins partners in the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) in expressing concern over a policy shift by the Government of Bhutan which restricts the advertising earning potential of all independent media outlets in the country.

According to sources, a secret circular was issued by the Ministry of Information and Communication on 2 April asking all government departments to withhold their advertising from the daily newspaper, The Bhutanese. This circular came to light mid-August and has caused serious concern among independent media.

Following this, in June, the Ministry of Information and Communication in Bhutan, ostensibly in line with a directive from the Ministry of Finance imposing budgetary restrictions on ministry budgets, asked all government departments to review their ad placement decisions in all media outlets.

This week, the Election Commission of Bhutan announced that all election-related advertising would be published only through state-owned media. This is a serious concern for independent media as national general elections (scheduled for 2013) contribute significantly to their revenue through public service announcements by the authorities.

It is estimated that 80 per cent of total advertising spending in the Bhutanese economy originates with the government.

The government's directive forbidding advertising to be placed in The Bhutanese is believed to be in retaliation for the publication of articles critical of possible abuse of power and corruption, arising from the government's use of its discretionary powers.

"We call on the government of Bhutan to review these directives and to follow the official policy which protects an independent media," said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

"It is the declared policy of the government to delink ad placement decisions from the content or editorial stance of the media outlet concerned".

"This is a sound policy, vital to sustaining a free media in a country where the limitations of the market impose formidable barriers to media growth. It must be fully adhered to in practice".

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