Bhutan’s The Raven: Birth of a Pathfinder
Bhuchung K. Tsering
In the past several days, I have been going through the first issue of The Raven, the latest journal to enter Bhutan’s media world.
When working in Dharamsala in the late 1980s, one of my reading materials of interest was Kuensel, which was then the only newspaper from Drukyul i.e. Bhutan, the land of our cultural cousins. Our office used to receive both the English edition as well as the Dzongkha edition, the content of which I would try to make out through my Tibetan lens.
Since then much river has passed through Paro Chu, and today there is a plethora of media outlets in Bhutan: print, radio and TV. The call for permission for private TV stations, if allowed, will be an interesting turn in the country’s media history.
Currently, the newspapers are primarily in the English language (reflecting the educational background of the leadership as well as the elites of the society) with the obligatory section or edition in Dzongkha.
Before the democratization of Bhutan’s political system some years back, the media played more of an information dissemination role. This could be clearly seen from the content of Kuensel of those years. But in recent years, Bhutan’s English language media is aggressively assuming its role of a watchdog, much to the chagrin of the establishment. This has even led to discussions about the need of a media vision, one that establishes the identity and role of modern Bhutan’s media.
It is in the midst of such a development that The Raven has made its entrance in Bhutan. The slick looking magazine has a lofty mission; Sonam Ongmo, Editor-at-Large, explains this in her Letter from the Editor in the maiden issue, by saying, “But the goal of The Raven is not to focus on our differences, because people have different tastes, preferences, likes and dislikes, as there are more than one way of looking at things. We will instead focus on the things we agree on; the universal values that bring us together as humans.”
Having had the opportunity to browse through the first issue, I feel The Raven is reaching out to all sections of the English-speaking Bhutanese society. More significantly, I feel it contributes in taking the public discourse towards a positive direction at this formative period of the country’s democracy. For good or bad, the elites of the society are the ones who have a strong impact on the governance and the policy formulation of Drukyul.
The Raven takes up an issue like the controversy-ridden Pedestrian Day, and rather than merely adopting a position of support or objection based on theoretical considerations, it has commissioned a scientific survey into how the people perceive this policy and how it is impacting their lives. Thus, The Raven publishes the survey result that shows “that about 60.9 percent of the Bhutanese support the initiative.” At the same time, it lays out the challenges to the people resulting from this policy.
The Raven displays a professional touch. Its glossiness seems to be its strength. The layout is eye-pleasing and the way the photos are cropped and positioned to highlight a story or be a story in themselves may be a novelty as far as the Bhutanese media is concerned.
The content has both fact and fiction, in all sense of the term. While being a Bhutanese journal, The Raven at the same time seems to be making an effort to provide a Bhutanese worldview: whether it is about Istanbul or China. Given the nature of the magazine, I hope the editors will think of having regular columnists who will be the opinion-makers, enabling the reading public, Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese, to not only have a better understanding of today’s increasingly changing Bhutan, but also about the country’s place in today’s world. The Raven will also have to undergo the inevitable fine-tuning in its subsequent issues so that it can eventually establish a clear identity for itself.
I am a Twitter kind of person and follow @bhutanraven to keep up to date with its development. If you wish to be in touch with the editors directly, you could contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven says “Nevermore” to a different situation; Bhutan’s The Raven says the same to a society that will not make an attempt to take its due role in determining its destiny. The Raven is a pathfinder and I hope it succeeds.