Press freedom ranking

The World Press Freedom Index for 2024 by Reporters Without Borders, which is the ranking for the year 2023, saw Bhutan drop by another 57 places to 147 out of 180 countries.

Before that Bhutan had dropped from 33 in 2021 to 90 in 2022 which was again another 57 places drop.

There are two ways to look at the issue.

In the years past when Bhutan’s press freedom ranking rose meteorically without much change on the ground, there were many skeptical journalists questioning the rise, if Bhutan deserved it and what was the methodology etc.

Now a huge drop for the year 2023 is already eliciting similar questions from the journalist fraternity as there was nothing drastic that happened in 2023 compared to 2022 that the ranking should drop so much.

There will always be this debate on the methodology, sampling etc. that will go on with the rankings.

However, another way to look at it is that the good old times of high press freedom rankings for Bhutan is over.

Bhutan for a while saw rapidly increasing press freedom rankings post democracy mainly on the assumption that democracy means the press is doing better and that reporters are safe in terms of no deaths and physical attack on reporters.

However, this has unraveled with foreign experts taking a much more pessimistic outlook now on the bigger picture.

 When one looks at the report in detail the sharpest drop has been seen in the economic ranking which was 66 in 2022 and it dropped down to 162 in 2023.

This is in the backdrop of a lot of advertisements that the media depends on being cut and put online under the e-procurement system in addition to austerity measures targeting advertisements. This has meant less revenue for media houses.

Despite media houses raising it no government has done anything till date.

The second sharpest drop is in the political index from 61 to 154 and here the issue seems to be that despite several parties changing power there is not much improvement in the media situation.

A drop in the legislative index also shows that the various codes and rules brought about restricting sharing of information has had its impact. The doing away with the Media Council is also an issue here.

While methodologies can be questioned the larger picture here is that post democracy while every democratic institution has gone from strength to strength, the media has gone weaker. It is high time to turn things around.

“Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.”
 George Orwell

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