Access to information and sustainability of media houses are among the challenges journalists face in the country 

The Reporters Without Borders’ recent press freedom ranking has caused a stir among those working in the mainstream media industry.

Bhutan jumped 10 places in the Reporters Without Borders’ rankings last year even as journalists continued their complaints about the industry’s worsening state. The country shot 30 places in the past three years, ranking 84 in 2016 from 104 in 2014.

At home however, journalists have been leaving the industry while those left behind continue to lament about the media sector’s dismal situation. Journalists Association of Bhutan’s (JAB) president, Rinzin Wangchuk said that from access to information to sustainability issues, there are many challenges the Bhutanese media is facing today.

He said the media is unable to exercise its freedom when there is limited access to information.

“The industry is run by young journaists. The media managers and owners are reluctant to invest in journalism,” he said. “If you don’t pay reporters or photographers, they will not go after the story. How then can we expect journalism to improve?” the JAB president said.

In January this year, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the reasons for private media struggling are low readership, very limited volume of advertisement, too many players in the field and senior and experienced journalists leaving media for greener pastures.

“There are too many newspapers and our readership and market is very limited,” Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay had told a private newspaper.

Media also quoted former journalists disagreeing with the Prime Minister and said that not all senior journalists have moved on of their own volition. Some, they said, left when their companies could no longer sustain.

A former editor, Rabi C Dahal said Bhutan’s ranking could have improved because rankings for those who were better in the past could have dropped. “Were we able to do a good investigative story or have we unearthed corruption?”

The poor financial health of media houses had a rippling effect on the quality of journalism. Two private newspapers closed while another went online.

Rinzin Wangchuk however said that the improved ranking could also encourage policymakers to appreciate the role, no matter how small, the Bhutanese media is playing.

“The ranking should not be the yardstick to measure our progress because one or two incidents in a country could influence the ranking,” he said.

The Reporters Without Borders’ index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.

However, the index does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. It is not an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country.

The degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

The criteria used in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. To compile the Index, RSF developed an online questionnaire with 87 questions focused on these criteria.

Tshering Palden