Bhutan falls 12 places on press freedom ranking

But it is still the best in the region

Report: Bhutan’s press freedom ranking fell by 12 places last year according to the latest World Press Freedom index, released last month.

Bhutan was ranked 104 out of 180 countries with a score of 32.65 out of a possible 100, a higher score being worse.

The France-based organisation, Reporters Without Borders World report ranked the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operates.

Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB) general secretary Kinlay Tshering said the consistent drop in Bhutan’s media freedom ranking sends out a wrong message to the world.

“Media freedom is a sensitive issue and any attempt, real or perceived, to stifle the media can be counterproductive to all the efforts Bhutan has made toward strengthening the media,” he said, adding that it deserves some thinking, and more importantly, concrete actions that would improve the conditions for journalists and media at large.

According to him, the fall could be a result of the ongoing financial situation of most private media houses.

“The poor financial health of media houses has had a rippling effect on the quality of journalism,” he said.

JAB’s situational assessment of journalists conducted last year indicated high level of self-censorship, which could have led to such developments in the media sector in the past few years.

He said the key stakeholders, government, media development agencies, media owners and in particular journalists themselves, need to work towards strengthening the media industry.

Finding a solution to the financial sustainability issues confronting the media industry needs to be prioritised.

“Media owners must also explore innovative means to generate revenue and not solely depend on government advertising for sustenance or profit,” he said.

An environment where media practitioners enjoy the freedom to write stories and report on issues that are important to the public interest has to be created, he said.

Creation of a culture among cross section of Bhutanese society that readily accepts and promotes media as a vital institution in the democratic set up is imperative to improve the industry and easier and greater level of access to information.

“If there is high level of self-censorship among journalists, perhaps, it is also because of social, political and financial pressures they have to deal with on a daily basis,” he said.

In the region Bhutan has the best working environment for the media industry. After Bhutan is Nepal close behind at 105, Afghanistan is 122, India is 136, Bangladesh 146, Pakistan 159, Sri Lanka 165, and China is 176.

Of the 180 countries, Finland tops the list for the fifth year in a row with Norway and Denmark at its heels. The worst performers were Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.

The indicators compiled by Reporters Without Borders show a drastic decline in freedom of information in 2014. Two-thirds of these countries surveyed for the report showed a decline in their performance from the previous year.

The annual global indicator, which measures the overall level of violations of freedom of information in 180 countries year by year, rose to 3,719, an eight percent increase over 2014 and almost 10 percent compared with 2013.

The report portrays a worldwide deterioration in freedom of information in 2014.

“Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents,” it states.

A country is not listed in the report if there is no reliable, confirmed information and does not portray the quality of journalism.

Founded in 1985, Reporters Without Borders has been working to protect and defend journalists for nearly three decades.

By Tshering Palden

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