Bhutan's First Multimedia Training Features New Women Trainers

Nov 202010

It all came together during ICFJ’s first-ever multimedia training in Thimphu, Bhutan. Jigme Choden and Tshewang Lhamo, two Bhutanese students at the International Media Institute of India, accompanied Knight Fellows David Bloss and Jody McPhillips to Thimphu in November—but they went as trainers, not students.

Students learn how to use Flip cams.

The two young women have blossomed at IMII, where they are among the class leaders in video storytelling and new media. Both have made sensitive, interesting videos and Tshewang in particular is an avid blogger. Both have written good stories. Both want to save the world and think journalism is the way to do it.

So they were valued members of our team as we planned the four-day training curriculum with Siok Sian Pek Dorji, who heads the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD). Tiny Bhutan, a former absolute monarchy in the Himalayas, is one of the most remote and least-visited countries on earth. In 2007, it became a constitutional monarchy, with a democratically elected parliament.

Pek, a former TV journalist, is committed to developing Bhutan’s nascent media and assembled a class of more than 20 young Bhutanese. Most were journalists from newspapers, radio and TV, but a few were spokespeople from key government agencies like the Attorney General’s Office and the Elections Commission.

Pek proved to be a good picker.

The class was active and enthusiastic, as eager to learn the basics as they were to master the Flipcams. They fanned out into the streets of Thimphu with a list of worthy story ideas: pollution, waste management, smoking (and who was breaking the anti-smoking laws), social media, the arts scene and night-time entertainment.

Bhutan has only had modern media since 1973, when the Bhutan Broadcasting Service began as a radio station. TV didn’t arrive until 1999, with cable TV hard on its heels. Today there are a handful of radio stations and probably a dozen publications, from newspapers to glossy magazines.

Journalists have had little formal training, and are basically teaching themselves. While we didn’t see a single foreign publication in the week we were there, TV does now carry BBC, CNN, and al-Jazeera English (schools teach in English although the national language is Dzhongka, similar to Tibetan).

Most of the seminar participants said the bulk of their information comes via internet. With a population of about 700,000 and an estimated 50,000 internet users, they’re part of an influential and growing minority.

The workshop was ambitious, covering reporting, news writing, interviewing, Freedom of Information, ethics, photography, shooting and editing video, blogging and social media. Lectures were interspersed with hands-on training. The result was a class-created blog that features print, audio and video stories and photos.

Participants said they had a blast. They also said they’d like more training in photography, video and online journalism in the coming year. Tshewang and Jigme will be returning to Bhutan after graduation from IMII next June, and will spend the next two years working with BCMD. They can be excellent support staff for trainers interested in more in-depth work in the coming months.