The 2020 World Press Freedom Index has ranked Bhutan 67 out of 180 countries. This is a big jump, a sign of improvement in terms of freedom of press.

Kuensel shared the news. One of our many “top fans” following Kuensel on Facebook left a big question in one word – “So?”

So what does the ranking mean?

Every year, the France-based organisation, Reporters Without Borders, publishes the ranking after analysing the state of the freedom of press in 180 countries. The ranking is based on a range of criteria that includes media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative framework, transparency, institutional and the infrastructural environment in which the media operate.

We could score easily on many of the criteria. Media pluralism has improved. Bhutan could be the safest place to be a journalist. We have not experienced any threat or violence unlike many journalists elsewhere in the region. If journalists value their independence, the government respects it. 

There are challenges, mostly to do with the financial environment. Investment in media is lacking and without financial independence, press freedom could be compromised. Media is not a lucrative business and media owners or managers do not risk investing in journalism.

However, the biggest problem today, journalists say, is the access to information. This is happening even with the freedom of media and expression not only guaranteed but also bestowed on us by the Constitution.

This arises from the lack of understanding of media among newsmakers or those who have the information. And this is not helped by the layer of bureaucratic procedures involved in getting timely information. If the head or the Dasho of an agency is out on tour, media will have to wait for his return because without his permission, information cannot be shared. Beyond media, researchers and scholars are also dealing with the same problem.

In an age when media is relaying news and information in real-time, authorities expect seeking permission even to take a picture or shoot a video. Then the coverage is misunderstood as attacking the organisation or the institution if it highlights their inefficiency or incompetency.

There is a misunderstanding that sharing information with media is doing media a favour. Therefore, we often hear authorities threatening the media. The information is not for the media, it is for the people. Media is only relaying it.

Meanwhile, the system of appointing spokesperson still remains a joke. Media spokespersons in many government agencies are there to just make appointments and demand questions in advance. They cannot speak or are not authorised to speak for the agency.

Media improves transparency in governance. If something is going wrong in the government, it has to be reported. If big decisions that impact the masses are made, people have to be informed. And if there are plans and programmes intended for the people, transparency is important to ensure that it reaches the intended target and build confidence in the system.

The only time media receives information, more than they need, is when the newsmakers have reasons to benefit. Therefore, a training or workshop conducted is seen as “very important” news. This happens to the extent where young journalist are dictated what to write.