Sherab Lhamo

Sixty-four percent of Bhutanese journalists reported that their request for information is often refused by authorities — for being  not authorised to share information, stating that information is under process, and does not have information, according to the State of Journalist Survey 2023 by Bhutan Media Foundation.

In addition, 36 percent of journalists believe that the government is unlikely to uphold legal protection for the rights of the journalists.

The report lists reasons as to why access to information is lacking.

Five newspapers, three radio stations, and two magazines have closed down in last 10 years, summing up the poor state of journalism in Bhutan.

As for those who remained to fulfil the role of the Fourth Estate, lack of access to information, media-unfriendly bureaucrats, and lack of legislative support further affect the already frail state of media in the country.

Fearing backlash, the journalists themselves engaged in self-censorship.

Fifty-nine percent of the journalists practise self-censorship; male journalists engage in self-censorship more compared to women journalists.

The journalists’ right to information is not clearly defined and lacks a systematic procedure to secure public records. Government regulations prevent civil servants from sharing information with the media and there is no systematic and institutional mechanism to facilitate access to information.

An agreement among constitutional bodies to not to share information with the media deprived the right of the media to disseminate information.

The report stated that due to the market saturation and government’s e-procurement policy, private media started facing challenges since 2012, leading to acute financial crunch for the media houses to sustain.  The government subsidy and advertisement support has become critical for the financial viability of all the media houses that compromised the principle of independence of media. Equal financial support to all the media houses, irrespective of their market share, had resulted in the protection of inefficiency as stated in the report.

The report pointed that all the journalists who participated in the focused group discussion felt that the financial status of the media houses was unlikely to change for better in the next three to five years.

The report recommended training young journalists effectively to improve professionalism and trust with officials, develop standardised information sharing procedures with written justifications for refusals by the government, redesign subsidy allocation for print media based on market share and for the media and government to collaborate and create endowment funds for media innovation and skill development.

At the moment, there were seven print media, one news broadcasting channel and three radio stations in the country.