Dictating change in an authoritarian bureaucracy

The past couple of years saw a disturbing trend in media freedom and information dissemination in the country with crucial government agencies like the Royal Civil Service Commission tightening their grip on civil servants on ‘not to disseminate information to the media’. The agriculture and forests ministry even went to the extent of expelling two of their senior staff for having approached the media.

While apathy towards the media and critical NGOs and democratic institutions is nothing, the level of secrecy, officialdom and indifference maintained by our bureaucrats, especially in the civil service sector, has become more pronounced over the years.

However, the statement made by the prime minister during the recent ‘meet-the-press’ session held Friday came as a much-necessitated breather on the need to disseminate information to the media and the citizenry as a whole. The PM said he felt deeply disappointed that individuals and organizations are not willing to speak with the media. He said the move is totally wrong as one must understand that it is part of their responsibility.

The prime minister also stated that the Anti-Corruption Commission has recently expressed concerns about the newly drafted ‘public service management system’. He stated that, while he don’t have the authority to direct government bureaucrats, the agencies have the sacred responsibility to share information with the media.

While the present DNT-led government, or any other governments in the past, have been fully appreciative of the role the media, often touted as the fourth estate, on the need for adequate information dissemination system in a democratic set-up, what is unbecoming is the fact that not much influence has been made on the role of RCSC and the need for civil servants to play an active role in our democratic transition.

Our bureaucracy has been, and still is, functioning on the archaic carrot-and-stick rule, that civil servants while been given added government and decision-making roles are denied fundamental rights to share their views and policies with the media. The old and draconian system of ‘media-gag’ policy still continues to haunt our civil servants who, despite knowing the role and influence the media plays, are wholly made to refrain from interacting with them.

Nonetheless, while the PM said that he has no say over bodies like the RAA, ACC, and RCSC, he reiterated that the media is crucial, and the government must inform the public on matters intended for public good. Lyonchhen said the only way we can share about this crucial information is through the media as it plays a very significant role in a democratic set-up.

Lyonchhen also pleaded to all government agencies that if they care about what they are doing for the betterment of the country and the public, the general citizenry. He added that they, government agencies, must understand that sharing information with the media is part of their responsibility.

However, what is baffling is that while the head of the government such as the prime minister himself and his cabinet has been open to public discourse and media scrutiny, not much has changed with the heavy iron-curtain drawn by the RCSC and other critical government agencies on their take on media and freedom to information and expression. 

The need to bring a wholesome reform on this is has become the need of the hour. Otherwise, no matter how much we propagate on media freedom, nothing much can be achieved if the ground realities remain the same,  

Leave a Reply