Sharp drop in Bhutan’s press freedom ranking

Bhutan’s ranking in the press freedom index saw a significant drop compared to the previous year, according to the South Asia Media Monitor Report.

From 70th position in 2012, Bhutan has been placed at 82nd, down by 12 places this year out of 179 countries.

The slide has been attributed to local media’s high dependency on government for revenue and the absence of a Right to Information (RTI) Act.

South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) Bhutan Chapter President Needrup Zangpo said, “The report highlights Bhutanese newspapers, television and radio being in state of despair because of heavy reliance of government advertisement to all newspaper particularly private newspaper in Bhutan.”

A release from the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) Chapter in Bhutan stated the media houses are in despair, shrinking, becoming smaller and fast losing employees after the authorities have directed all government agencies to cut down on advertising.

President of the Journalist Association of Bhutan (JAB) Passang Dorji said, “Besides media house, it is also the journalists who are in despair, and I would like to represent JAB in expressing our appreciation to those who are still carrying on despite difficult times. I hope things will improve for media in Bhutan that has developed itself as a separate institution and a body that is so important in terms of strengthening democracy or human rights.”

The report also stated that Reporters Without Borders placed Bhutan’s state of press freedom at 82nd, 12 place down from last year’s 70th position. Bhutan’s ranking in the press freedom Index had increased steadily since 2008 until 2010. Since 2011, it has been decreasing from 70th in 2011-2012 and to 82nd in 2013.”

The SAFMA Chapter in Bhutan press release stated that in 2006, as Bhutan prepared for the arrival of democracy, a strong, vibrant and responsible media was deemed vital to keep people informed and to encourage their active participation in the country’s politics.

“Now that the country has had its second democratic government in place, its 12 newspapers, six radio stations and one television channel are in despair, shrinking, becoming smaller and fast losing their staff after the authorities have told all government agencies to cut down on advertising in thrift,” the release stated.

Among others, the media monitor report also stated that journalists still struggled for fair wages and decent working conditions.

The drop in ranking is also related to the previous government banning advertisements to this paper for some critical content. At the time, the world’s largest grouping of journalists, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had expressed concerns of the impact of such a move on press freedom in Bhutan.

Editor across papers say that at the current rate and with a lack of policy interventions most media outlets are either on the verge of closure or are operating with minimal capacity.

In recent times the government since 2010 has embarked on a policy of reducing advertisements mainly to private papers which has had a devastating impact on the state of Free Press in Bhutan.

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