ECB gag order on media coverage of thromde candidates

ECB wants the media coverage of the thromde candidate only after the official campaign period begins

ECB and media arbitrator reminds the media on guidelines in accordance with the Media Coverage of Elections Rules and Regulations of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2018’

Lhakpa Tshering

With the third thromde election season now in full force, the profile of candidates who are portrayed in the mainstream and social media even before the commencement of the official campaign period is in violation of media guidelines on election coverage.

This is according to ECB’s media arbitrator who, earlier this week, sent a notification to media houses stating that profiling potential thromde candidates before the official campaign period begins will not be allowed.

As the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) keeps a close watch on media coverage of elections, the officials from the commission and the media arbitrator reminded the journalists covering elections to abide by the media guidelines for election coverage.

For instance, the third thromdes’ election campaign formally begins on 2 April but it is already taking place on social media. Concerning activities on social media, they say it is still very challenging despite having a social media monitoring team. “But we also create awareness to who we encounter,” says an official.

However, they said that the commission had considered earlier reports of the candidates given fair and unbiased coverage. “We haven’t raised the issue because we have observed that all the candidates were covered. So we thought at least there is a level playing field.”

As per the commission’s ‘Media Coverage of Elections Rules and Regulations of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2018’, the period of broadcast and publication of permissible election campaign activities may start on the last date of submission of Letter of Intent or filing the nominations and shall end 48 hours before the date of poll.

The rules and regulations state the media shall in its coverage and reporting, including on any social media, during the period of election campaigning.

Media arbitrator Jigme Wangdi, who is also the director for Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), said that this is to ensure free and fair polling throughout the thromdes which ends on 27 April.

He said even the nominated candidate can also disqualify in the electoral process. “All the documents submitted by the aspirant candidates elected through ‘dhamngoi zomdu’ will be checked to validate and then only a person becomes a candidate to contest for the election,” he said, adding the media can cover the candidates after filing the nominations.

There is another important component of electoral laws to be followed during the election campaign that states media shall not transmit details of any information regarding counting at the office of Counting Supervisor or Returning Officer before the announcement of result by the concerned Returning Officer.

In another section, there is the silence period, which usually begins 48 hours before the voting day and ends after polling ends, television or any digital media cannot carry any election-related matters.