For any book to survive and perform well in today’s market, when the cyber store has piles of freely accessible information, it’s content must be of interest un-accessible through internet browsing. This criterion is highly upheld by TP Mishra’s “Becoming a journalist in exile”.
The first of the four parts may, at first, appear deceitful to the readers who have bought the book under the influence of its cover. It resembles a college guy’s pocket note for a final viva-voce. But before reaching the last page the readers feel that this part had cemented the gaps in the subsequent chapters, shortening length through reduction of repetitions and footnotes. It provides a pleasant coffee-time go-through material to anyone novice to journalism, and does not make idiot of the professionals. The basic concepts offer an abridged bible of journalism. While it makes the novice grab the pen and begin scratching words for articles, it also makes the professionals crease their faces recalling serious overlook in their previous write ups. The unique language structures and snaky sentences may even irritate a niggling orthodox grammarian. The sentence structures must be unique even to native English speakers, but there is little for them to spend red ink. It has broken many of the established rules of English grammar.
The second section explains the scenario of media in Bhutan. The status of media in Bhutan is blended with the struggle for democracy. Media in exile together with its concept began in early 1990s along with the start of the eviction of Bhutanese from their country. Initial papers carried and promoted voices of dissidents. Many short-lived papers represented minority views, whose contents passed through ideology coating rather than through journalist editing. Financial predicaments affected their regularity and continuity. In many instances, on top of the financial crunches, the then political and human right leaders and local administration officers are accused of hammering the publication to shut down. The Sangrila Sandesh, aborted in its infancy, when the British NGO Photo Voice, which supported since its launch, pulled down its scaffold on pretext of carrying politically biased contents.
Covering news inside refugee camp demands extra journalistic abilities and qualities of conviction, language, rapport and perseverance. Besides facing the crunches of deprivation in refugee camps, the Bhutanese media personal are also in a desert of support from local authorities. The refugee publication lack legal support. Lack of registration and valid identity cards add acid into the wounds left behind by the economic, political and technological hammers. The book also carries a fleeting mention of an incarceration of a refugee photo journalist to seven and half years by his government for taking snaps of a police post.
The readers’ expectations of success stories from the book may change with realization of the sorry state of Bhutanese media in exile, when the notable successful events include: publication of annual reports, getting their reports mentioned in the reports of International Federation of Journalists, getting affiliated to Third World Media Network, coming together of media organizations on to a common platform, etc. Although there is no climax in this book, this section, for sure, offers a striking anti climax. Limited numbers of pictures are made to speak volumes, which they have successfully done.
Many banners of short lived journals, magazines and news prints, in Nepali and English, are available, today, for mention and to share credits of media popularization and literature development. Their impacts were more than their contents. Their fateful demise has left behind fountain of inspiration and lessons for the present day media workers. The numerous attempts and short-lived success stories have successfully accumulated to the present three media organizations operating in exile namely, Bhutan Chapter of Third World Media Network, Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) and Bhutan Press Union, who came to a mutual arena after signing Declaration De Exile in 2007. APFA news with its Bhutan News Service (BNS) has gone online. BNS also runs a 30 minute radio program ‘refugee concern’ in Kathmandu based Nepal FM. The most widely read ‘Bhutan Jagaran’ a fortnightly Nepali vernacular, has resumed its pace after resurrection. A monthly ‘The Bhutan Reporter’ is celebrating its sixth year of continuous hard copy print. On the scene are monthlies ‘Nawlo Awaz’, Yug Awaz’, and “The Class Struggle” propping communist ideology.
Although the book seriously lacks the history of media, especially the presence of effective local and mass communication system of the ancient and medieval days, the authors have strategically filled up the gap with the continuous stories. What so ever, a decent mention of the role and system of Gainees- the singers; Jogis- the night pied pipers; katwals- the messengers etc. would not have undone the scope of the book. .
The last two sections carry proficient scrutiny and scorched experiences of veteran journalists. The authors are on the way to create a distinct vision to which they appear to be close to target. In the media and its role, the author sermons a sweet prophesy, to sooth himself, that internet can bring together all sections of his community and serve as a conduit for communication and a connector.
The readers will have to complete the book or even meditate after that to find out what the book is preparing the reader to be: an honest journalist, a sting journalist who go down to whistle blowing to spying, or an opinion builder.
How neutral? David Brewer takes time to define an activist as someone who pushes a cause without aiming to reflect an alternative view, and raises a question whether a journalist can also be an activist for a freedom of expression and still remain objective and impartial. He considers two types of journalists. First type who are taken out and wined and dined by powerful and influential, and the second type who are simply taken out with bullets and bombs. As R. P. Subba writes “Corruption is reportedly rampant in the corridors of Tashichho dzong, as well as in the lanes of refugee camps”; neutrality may not be non alignment with either of contradictory parties as much as pinpointing the involved parties for their over or under doings.
It is surprisingly unexpected that a book compiled and edited by the journalist of a media organization banned in his country, is free from anger and revengeful expressions against his government. “Bhutan’s education system hailed as the best in South Asia failed to produce conscious citizenry” is too mild to underscore the gravity of the fact.
Writers’ modesties are apparent throughout the book. “If length of service equals experience, then I guess I qualify as an experienced journalist” writes David Brewer. He further adds “However, as far as certificates go, my walls are bare”.
Nanda Gautam’s experiences burden readers to seek control of their heart beat, choking breath and tear falls. He explains the effect of his audacious reporting in Bhutan. Nanda Gautam, a radio journalist of government run national broadcast, joins an affluent inauguration of a bridge. He sees laborers, who built the bridge, chased away during luncheon. He reaches to them and records their stories. An old Brahmin man’s properties were confiscated, and he was deceitfully forced to join the national work force under the Home Ministry. A promise of extra land, house, and loan after 10 years of blue color service never materialized. Other, a Tamang couple with an infant, victimized by the people from the western part of the country who usurped their land, were weak and sick through cruel treatment in the construction works. Mr. Gautam aired the news to get immediate but negative results. While he was threatened to death, the laborers were made to meet it, all for speaking the truth.
Deepak Adhikari, a Nepalese journalist’s memoir takes the readers to Pittsburg in USA, where he finds Nepali speaking Bhutanese. Together they end the nostalgia to speak in their common native language.
Subir Bhaumik’s “Journalism: Rising above identity barriers” is a complete non Bhutan article. He explains the fact and façade behind the influence of identity on journalism with his experiences in the communal riots in Tripura and Assam. His gradual but early rise against the identity barriers in journalism, through three decades, has established him as the most widely read and appreciated columnist by both bitter rivals, Bengalis and Assamese in Assam.
Towards the end, a relief comes to the reader, when Laura Elizabeth Pohl, slips a few lines in praise of the Bhutanese refugee journalist running newspaper in Nepal. She writes “only a few had formal journalism training. They certainly did not have a lot of money. What they did have though, was mentors, readers and a drive to provide informative and interesting news to their readers. Their editorial meeting was as spirited and serious as any I have attended at American magazines and newspapers”
On top of all there is a cause over the cost. The proceeds from the book go to the development of media only.
(The writer is doing his PhD on Improvement of Protein Quality in Soybean Through Gene Modification from Kyoto University, Japan.)