Letter to Editor

I reproduce a letter I sent to the editor of Kuensel to express my concerns over wrongly (and hopefully unintentionally) damning the teaching profession. I argue that the titles and professions mentioned in detail in the news report are irrelevant in terms of carrying the story forward.

Media/journalism is not about reporting ALL or any types of facts or truth but only the essential facts and figures that are relevant, contextual and circumstantial to the event. This is called objectivity.

Journalists have to withhold names, or any direct references, and protect the identity of the victim/s as well as the perpetrator/s – to avoid harming the dignity, reputation and credibility of the respective families, friends and colleagues, who may have no role in the crime. Extra care has to be taken when the crime involves vulnerable groups such as children. This is as per the Journalistic Codes of Conduct.

News reports, opinions, commentaries, public comments should take into account the social, cultural, racial, ethnic, political and religious considerations so as to avoid wrongly perpetrating stereotypes of groups, individuals, institutions or professions. This is called cultural competency. This aspect is taught in journalism school as Media, Culture & Society and is the most complex and what could possibly attract serious retributions if media pratitioners or social media users are not careful.

There are more but these backgrounders should suffice to give a context of what I am talking.

Sub: Report Damning Principals and Teachers Across the Country?

Madam,

This pertains to the Kuensel’s report, Phuntsholing Police Detains Three for Throwing a Newborn, and the follow-up story on the most horrendous, shocking and inhuman act of recent times.

As a long-time media practitioner, though, I wonder whether mentioning the designations or professions of the two men added anything to the story in terms of context or content. I strongly argue that they didn’t. Instead of starting off the story with, “Police have sent blood samples of the principal and teacher of Sertena School in Gakidling, Haa to Kolkata …”, the lead could have been simply, “Police have sent blood samples of the two men, involved in throwing a newborn, to Kolkata …”. The alleged crime is the focus here and a criminal, if proven, is a criminal. Their vocations or their place of work are inconsequential to the story.

This leads me to think that your two stories have, inarguably, hurt the morale of teachers and principals across the country. My claim is based on the observation that Bhutanese people, in general, have the culture of internalizing their titles, official positions and professions – to the point that we often refer to a person with his/her respective designation – and not by the name. I am not saying that this is good or bad. The point that I am making here is that when a news report damns a school principal, over 700 principals and thousands of teachers around the country would be equally embarrassed for no fault of theirs. In fact, a timid and an indirect response, posted on Facebook by another school principal, reads, “Not all the principals and vice principals are rapists and baby-throwers. There are others who touch lives and make difference”.

When the country is just reeling from that sickening incident of child-molestation by a vice-principal in Thimphu, Kuensel could have been paid more attention to the public mood – and not mentioned the professions of the alleged-criminals of Phuntsholing. While I understand the pressure from the social media to the mainstream newspapers these days, it is still not a good reason to overlook the established ethical standards or cultural competencies in the practice of media and journalism. The social media is what it is. Kuensel, as a 50+ years media agency, should not lower itself to the lowest common denominator set by some from the social media. It should still uphold good journalistic practices and professional values and the sensitivities of a society – as it has always done.

As a communication scholar, let me also add that the connotative meanings and broader ramifications of such reports do not help in the on-going public discourse on education – or on the issue of motivation-level or mass exodus of the teachers from the profession. If it all, they further dampen the spirits of thousands of teachers who are otherwise doing incredible jobs in some of the most impossible places and circumstances.

Dorji Wangchuk

University of Macau

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