Fate of private media?
Pema Tshoki, ThimphuAug 16 2013
With limited market scope and high dependency on government advertisement, some privately owned newspapers are struggling to meet their ends, financially. Some are managing to keep themselves afloat by downsizing its editorial, some are on the verge of closing down.
Recently, the Bhutan Observer suspended their print edition after being in the market for around seven years. The Company said it was challenging to maintain required number of professionals to run. And also to keep up with the nationwide reach and exorbitant printing cost were among other reasons.
When asked about the sustainability, the Chief Executive Officer Phuntsho Wangmo, had earlier said that to be a socially responsible independent media had always been a challenge. “To just sustain as a media is not really difficult. I mean if you want to sustain by having five people, not circulating nationwide or by compromising on professionalism you can sustain but do you want to sustain like that, this is a question that we have always asked ourselves.
“Sustainability for us to sustain as a responsible and independent, not aligned with any group which is again a challenge.”
Similarly, The Journalist, another private newspaper had to compromise on their content with no option but to continue with their publications. The Chief Executive Officer, Sonam Gyletshen, said they have downsized the number of reporters. Besides, he added, the papers printed in a week have also drastically come down.
Today, private media houses have to depend on the government for advertisement revenues to sustain. Its dependence is as high as about 80 to 90 percent.
However, the Managing Director of the Bhutan Today, Tenzin Dorji, said they would have to continue depending on government advertisement as it was their only source of revenue. “Other alternative which we look at it is the private sector, but we do not have a strong private sector or by default we have no choice but to depend on government advertisement.”
He also added the increasing number of newspapers and economic crisis have partly attributed for what they are today.
Meanwhile, the existing private radio stations shares a similar fate. Some came and left the market. And while those trying to sustain are left with little hope.
Radio Valley has been in operational for the last six years and the only revenue they could make was in their first year during the 2008 parliamentary elections.
However, the Executive Manager, Kinley Wangchuk, said they were optimistic as the country develops. “The market force it’s improving… when we first started the advertisement culture was just kicked in and it’s much better now and I am quite happy to tell you that radio valley as a radio station and being privately owned and privately run, we have most of the advertisers and customers from the private sectors.”
He added to certain extent it would help them sustain if ministries and agencies prioritise right medium to reach the targeted audiences. “When there was an outbreak of avian flu the announcement and messages were basically advertised on paper which for me it didn’t make any sense because people who can read are already aware of it and those who can’t read for them radio and television is best platform to advocate.”
Kinley Wangchuk said government should look into entitlement of tax holidays, help grow and groom the existing private media to further sustain. Currently there are six radio stations including two BBS radio channels.