Third of May is observed as World Press Freedom Day every year. This year marks 30 years since the declaration of World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly through the Windhoek Declaration. As we gear towards observing the 30th Anniversary of World Press Freedom Day,  next week, it presents an opportunity for the current government to reflect on their vision for the Bhutanese media landscape, both mainstream and social media, formal and informal, over the next five years of their tenure.

Bhutan fell by 57 places, dropping to 90th  place in 2023 in the press freedom rankings. While we await the rankings this year, it is also a year to reflect on how have fared the press freedom since the adoption of our constitution, as these are guaranteed as fundamental rights under the Constitution.

Over the decades, global media has been fractured along political lines and ideologies, and held responsible for misinformation, disinformation, and doubling down in various situations across the world. With Ukraine War and Israeli-Palestine war, the global mainstream media has been driven by their allegiances, where even some of the most unbiased media like The New York Times have attracted criticism.

In the last 30 years, with the emergence of social media and other forms of digital media, information has exploded, giving rise to new terminologies such as disinformation and misinformation. Bhutan is equally affected by social media and digital technologies. Bhutanese enjoy one of the best forms of global information with no restrictions. While big countries like China have no access to any form of Western social media, including Gmail, even most liberal democracies like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, or India have restricted social media originating from China, such as WeChat and TikTok, citing security reasons. On the other hand, the Bhutanese government has never restricted any form of social media, irrespective of where it originated.

However, the freedom of press, whether through established media houses, independent journalists, or citizens exercising their freedom of speech, expression, and opinion, has not been faring well in the country. The quality of news before the 2008 election and after three consecutive governments has diminished, with the mainstream media becoming more of a government mouthpiece than a watchdog. With each new government, access to information among government agencies has become increasingly difficult. Individual public servants have faced repercussions for talking to the media, and in the name of protecting public interest, the Royal Civil Service Commission has amended the civil service rules, making it extremely difficult for the media to obtain information.

There are also equal political interferences on both the mainstream media and individuals’ critical opinions that contradict, disagree, or look critically at the government. Even individual opinion writers like me have faced serious government as well as political pressures for expressing my opinions, both in Kuensel and on my social media, on numerous occasions. The ability to accept criticism and disagreement among public institutions and figures in Bhutan is still evolving.

While freedom of speech, expression, opinion, and press freedom are not political manifestos or vote banks, if we cannot translate what is guaranteed in the Constitution into reality, we are failing to nurture our democracy. The true essence of these fundamental rights lies in their practical implementation, and if public discourse and scrutiny are stifled, it undermines the very foundations of the rule of law, the soul of democracy.


Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.