KP Sharma

Amidst media reports highlighting the challenges Bhutanese journalists face in accessing information from authorities, the recent assurance of support and willingness to engage with the media by the prime minister is viewed by some as a potential catalyst for renewed hope within the media fraternity.

During the inaugural Meet-the-Press session last month, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay highlighted the crucial role of the media in upholding democratic principles, stressing the accountability of the elected government to the people.

He said that the media serves as the conduit for this accountability and must actively fulfil its role.

Further to that, the Prime Minister said that the media should not hesitate to critique and engage in debate over government policies if they are perceived as socially ineffective and potentially harmful to the country in the future.

“When we hold the elected government accountable, it undoubtedly benefits the people,” Prime Minister said.

Regarding the fulfillment of campaign promises, Prime Minister highlighted the importance of delivering on commitments while acknowledging the significance of the media in providing insights on pledges that could have negative long-term impacts on the country.

“If there are considerations to be taken into account, we would engage in discussions with the relevant authorities and offer explanations, even if we are unable to fulfil a promised commitment,” Prime Minister said.

Prime Minister emphasized that while promises made in the form of Damcha must be fulfilled, the media plays a crucial role in reminding the country if a particular commitment has the potential to adversely affect the nation. The government, he said, has started the works to fulfil its promises, with ongoing work for the 13th plan. 

Acknowledging that there may be some areas requiring correction, he urged the media to serve as a reminder without fear and hesitation.

Moving beyond the conventional approach of plan drafting solely by bureaucrats, the Prime Minister sought the media’s support in incorporating new ideas into the 13th plan. 

“If you believe certain elements should be included in the 13th plan, feel free to discuss, send reminders, or report on it to provide us with timely reminders.”

Bhutan’s press freedom ranking slid from 33rd to 90th place last year, marking a significant drop of 57 places, according to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) compiled by the France-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF). 

The decline can be attributed to the implementation of various regulations by the government regarding media oversight. 

Reporters and media personnel have voiced their discontent over the quality of information provided by the authorities, which is further hindered by layers of barriers within the system.

Under the media regulation implemented last year, all offices are mandated to appoint a media focal person to facilitate communication between the media and the respective office. 

However, major loopholes exist in it as some offices still do not have a designated media focal, and even in cases where appointments have been made, the effectiveness of officials concerned in ensuring the free flow of information remains questionable.

In some offices, the media is required to obtain permission from the head of the agency to talk with their subordinates. Unfortunately, accessing these higher authorities proves challenging, as they are often unavailable or reluctant to grant media interactions with relevant officials. 

This practice not only hampers the timely dissemination of information but also creates delays as inquiries must route through multiple layers within the agency. Additionally, it results in reporters being deprived of firsthand information.

The bureaucratic process and delays in obtaining responses contribute to a situation where information becomes outdated by the time it reaches journalists, as it has to pass through various bureaucratic gates within the agency.

The challenges posed by government regulations have impacted the overall freedom and effectiveness of the press within the country.

The government campaigned on a promise to champion free and independent media, streamline access to information, and enhance the media landscape with new initiatives and incentives.