“Media, Ethics and the Judiciary” in Bhutan
For the first time in Bhutan, more than 30 representatives from the media, justice system and government gathered this week in Thimphu to discuss the relationship between the media and the judiciary, and the role of both institutions in ensuring greater public understanding of the law and legal rulings.
“The media, working with the legal establishment, can be a potent force in fighting corruption and in ensuring respect for human rights,” said Ms. Christina Carlson, UNDP Resident Representative in Bhutan. “In promulgating verdicts, the media help to create a common understanding of legal principles throughout the country.”
The workshop, on ‘Media, Ethics and the Judiciary’ was held in Thimphu 4-6 September 2013, and was organized by the Department of Information and Media of the Ministry of Information and Communications, in collaboration with UNDP Bhutan, in order to foster a better working relationship between journalists and members of the judiciary.
“There is some way to go for the media and judiciary to work hand in hand in Bhutan,” said Honourable D. N Dhungyel, Minister for Information and Communications, noting also the importance for both sides to have a mutual understanding of the extent to which the media and judiciary can open up to each other without compromising their respective mandates.
Dr. Venkat Iyer, who led the workshop, offered examples of best practice, cases, and guidelines from Asia, Europe and the Americas on the coverage of court cases, as well as options for the judiciary for working constructively with the media. Participants discussed issues such as media access to courtrooms, cases of contempt of court, and related these to practical examples and experiences in Bhutan. Examples of codes of conduct for journalists and for judges, and their applicability in Bhutan, were also debated.
One of the participants, Mr. Needrup Zangpo, editor of the newspaper Bhutan Observer, said “the event brought a lot of clarity on the issues covered, and hopefully the judiciary and the media in Bhutan can work together smoothly in the service of the nation.”
According to Ms. Carlson, the time is opportune to reflect on the evolving relationship between the judiciary and the media in Bhutan. “A strong, independent judiciary and media each play distinct and important roles in a democratic society. A good working relationship between the two, based on mutual respect and understanding, can help ensure that a delicate balance of informing the public and administering justice is struck,” she said.
Bhutan became a Constitutional Monarchy, and held its first democratic elections, in 2008. UNDP in Bhutan has been closely involved in supporting both the judiciary and the media in building up the core capacities of their personnel throughout the process of democratization.
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Dr. Venkat Iyer is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, University of Ulster. A barrister by training, he is a member of the Bars of Northern Ireland and India. His research interests encompass the areas of constitutional law, media law and human rights. His expertise in media law led to his nomination in 1990 as a Nuffield Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge. He has also served as an adviser to the Royal Government of Bhutan, and was responsible, in 2003-04, for the drafting of the country’s media laws.