Bhutan’s press freedom index ranking drops by six places

MoIC surprised with the new ranking 

The France-based international non-governmental organization, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) which conducts an annual ranking comparing each nation’s state of press freedom, has placed Bhutan at 70th, six places down in the rung from last year’s 64th.

This has caused a certain amount of surprise in relevant authorities.

Information and Communication (MOIC) Secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji said, “We don’t know how the ranking and analysis is done, so we don’t know anything; as far as we are concerned, in the last few years things have not changed.” He added that it is difficult to say whether the report is credible or not.

Meanwhile, MOIC’s Head of Media Division, Monira A Y Tsewang said, she was “amazed”. “As far as we are concerned, we are creating an enabling environment and we never go about dictating the media. So, it feels quite sad to be rated like this.”

Department of Information and Media Director Kinley T Wangchuk said, that he was extremely surprised and puzzled adding that the ranking should instead have improved “because there has been no abuse or attack on our journalists”. He also referred to the increased media houses and a liberal media licensing policy.

“We continue to train journalists and support trainings continuously. The department is helping develop the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan (JAB) and has been promoting growth of media “, he added.

Editor of Bhutan Observer Needrup Zangpo cited the lack of Right to Information Act as one of the causes behind the low ranking.

“Bhutan’s drop in press freedom ranking might be because of an increasing number of people calling for an RTI act and openness in the government system,” he reasoned. Kuensel’s News Editor Samten Wangchuk also said that although the Bhutanese news media enjoy much better freedom in terms of the issues they cover and write about than they could some years ago, “it is access to information that we struggle with even today”. He said the Bhutanese media was being compared with nations many times bigger than itself “which if aligned to our context and level, we would feature lower down the indicator.”

DOIM’s head of media relation division Dawa Penjor said one reason could be because of rapid media development in other countries while in Bhutan, it has remained constant. He added that it is important to know if Bhutanese media is at the same level as others.

However, this is a far cry from Bhutan’s ranking by RWB in 2003 at a miserable 157 which later showed dramatic improvement following the adoption of the Constitution among other reforms.

RWB publishes the Press Freedom Index which is an annual ranking of countries compiled by the organization based upon its assessment of each country’s press freedom records.

RWB prepared a questionnaire with 44 main decisive factors indicative of the degree of press freedom. The questions relate to every kind of violation directly affecting Journalists and netizens (including murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment). It also establishes the level of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations.

As the ranking reflects the position during a specific period, this year’s index takes account of events between Dec 1, 2010 and Nov 30, 2011.

Bhutan is now ranked lower than countries like Tonga, Central African Republic, Mauriatania, Croatia, and Burkina Fasco. Finland continues to be the forerunner for the second time in a row and the last ranked is Eritrea at 179.

The questionnaire was sent to RWB’s partner organizations (18 freedom of expression groups in all five continents),its network of 150 correspondents around the world, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. A scale devised by the organization was then used to give a country score to each questionnaire.

The study looks specifically at press freedom violations and also measures the level of self censorship in each country and the ability of the media to investigate and criticize.

Financial pressure, which is increasingly common, is also assessed and incorporated.

A lesser score in the index correspond to more freedom of the press.

The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media such as penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated, and the level of independence of the public media. It also reveals violations of the free flow of information on the internet.

Needrup Zangpo said, “RWB also looks at the legal situation in which the press operates to compile the rankings. If legal instruments for better and swifter access to information are put in place, Bhutan’s ranking would be much higher because journalists here do not face outright threats and intimidation in the line of duty”.

Me a n w h i l e , S a m t e n Wangchuck was of the opinion that bureaucrats led by the government hold on to public documents that affect the people across the country as they would their own personal belongings. “So long as this attribute and the burgeoning culture within the public sectors is allowed to flourish, we are not a democracy in any democratic sense”.

RWB do not include a country for ranking if there is a lack of reliable, confirmed data and is careful to note that the index only deals with press freedom and does not measure the quality of journalism.

RWB advocates freedom of the press and freedom of information.

It is known to be the largest press freedom organization in the world with over 120 correspondents across the globe.

Founded in 1985, RWB has been working to protect and defend journalists for nearly 30 years. RWB reports also show that 87 journalists were killed in 2007 and 67 killed in 2011. In 2012, so far 22 journalists have been killed and 161 imprisoned in their line of duty.

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