Call for Action: the importance of free Bhutanese journalism in Nepal.

A couple of days ago I wrote an article on this website to advocate the role of journalism for the Bhutanese community in exile. I did that after a fire incident hit the Beldangi 2 refugee camp near Damak in the Jhapa district of Nepal. The whole situation concerning information flow of the events proved the importance of adequate and independent journalism in the region.

Yesterday I received further information on the challenging situation the free journalists focussing on the Bhutanese refugees / exiles are. For many years now they have been covering the situation and major events for this large group of people with almost no financial means. On their own pockets and with little support from abroad. And because these journalists are refugees themselves they have to be careful as they are not issued formal journalists status in Nepal. Refugees are not allowed to do paid work outside the refugee camps.

Journalists and community workers from Bhutan Media Society bringing relief to fire victims in Sanischare camp,
Morang District, Nepal, summer 2011. (Photo © 2011 Alice Verheij)

Their challenges are not only financial. Due to the nature of long term refuge in camps (more than 20 years now) it is only logical that tensions rise frequently inside the refugee community inside the camps and the Nepalese communities around these camps and in nearby villages. Working as a journalist coming from the refugee community means that one has to toe the line quite often. Some of these men (unfortunately only men are doing this work) are threatened or even abused. The work can easily become from relaxed to difficult to dangerous. Only their perseverance and conviction that free journalism is the essence of a free peoples has been and still is keeping them active.

Bhutan is not a free country and threats are often coming from Bhutan to the more active refugees in the community who inevitable critisize the government of their country that has exiled them. Nepal is not a completely democratic and liberal country although much progress has been made in the past six years after the revolution that abolished the monarchy. In present day Nepal there still is an instable government and freedom of press is not something that can be taken for granted. The number of attacked journalists is unfortunately impressive. This poses an extra danger to the work of the Bhutanese journalists in exile.

Lastly there is the massive UN guided resettlement going on. This means that some of the group of active young journalists are leaving the area to be resettled in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmakr, the UK or the Netherlands. So continuous refreshment of resources is essential to keep proper journalistic work alive and news regarding the situation in the refugee camps flowing. It is therefore that a lot of things are needed. Equipment, training and good connections with the journalistic community in Nepal and abroad.

Much of what is needed is still there but to be honest journalism is endangered strongly. These journalists need support. Urgently. Their running cost mounts to some 535 dollars per month to keep the websites online and the journalists at work. That amount of money is needed for transport and media access and normal running costs. Thankfully there is a free news agency setup some years ago. The Bhutan News Service. They as a group are connected with a community aid group the Bhutan Media Society and they keep the websites www.bhutannewsservice.comwww.apfanews.com and www.radiobhutanonline.com alive and kicking.

And now they are about to go down. The funds are exhausted, there are no reserves available and support is low. The exiled community globally is not economically alive to the level that it can be expected that they on their own will be able to cater for the cost.

I myself have been working with these journalists extensively in the past one and a half year. I know their qualities and their sacrifices. I know what they can do and I know that if they can no longer work that the effect will destroy one of the last remains of freedom for the Bhutanese living in the camps in Nepal.

CALL FOR ACTION

If you want to help them, please contact me through email at alice.verheij@xs4all.nl. I would like to work with anyone who understands the importance of free journalism in refugees communities and am able to channel support to the right people and organizations. Any media organization, Journalistic educational facility or individual journalist is kindly requisted to contact me and step in to build a proper financial backing for these young and strong journalists and to facilitate training facilities for the upcoming generation of free Bhutanese journalists.

Alice Verheij © 2012
director Headwind (www.headwindfilm.com)
friend of Bhutan Media Society