The newly released findings for 2017 World Press Freedom Index by an independent NGO with consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the International Organization of the Francophone called the Reporters Without Boarders (RSF) showed that Bhutan moved up 10 spots from 94 in 2015 to the current 84th position out of 180 countries.
In 2015 Bhutan was at 104 and then moved onto 94 in 2016 and now finally 84 in 2017 which means a jump of 30 places in the last three years.
The report stated that the number of privately media outlets are still low but there is pularim and variety developing since the transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy in 2008. It says that foreign journalists with official accreditation can operate without restrictions and so the country is now evolving and the media landscape along with it.
The Executive Director of Bhutan Media Foundation (BMF), Dawa Penjor said that it is a positive indicator as a citizen of the country. “We are happy that Bhutan jumped to 10 places in media freedom ranking from the earlier 94th and that we are the only country in South-Asia to secure top 100th position. But at the same time, we have to be mindful of the ground reality back home. It is even more important to study the state of media in the country and question if our journalists are growing professionally or whether we are doing enough for their growth. We must strive to chase for top 5 position as the year goes by and learn the strategies adopted by the current top 5 countries,” he said.
Norway ranked 1st place in media freedom, followed by Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Netherlands at the fifth position.
Needrup Zangpo, the Executive Director of Journalist Association of Bhutan (JAB) said that While RSF press freedom rankings are something to check out regularly, the way in which the rankings go up and down poses more questions than it provides answers.
The report also states that the adoption of the Bhutan Information Communications and Media Act in 2006 and the creation of a media regulatory authority have reinforced the government’s armory of draconian legislation, which already included a national security law that punishes any attempt to create “misunderstanding or hostility between the government and people.”
“Legislation criminalizing defamation in 2016 encouraged self-censorship by journalists and restricted the ability of the media to work freely,” says the report.
China, Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea have been ranked as the bottom five countries in press freedom.