Is Bhutan’s Media Freedom Really Slipping?


Vishal Arora regularly sneaks into Bhutan out of his love for this country. It is indeed Vishal’s foster- country, for he derived his name Tenzin Wangchuk, to show affinity towards welcoming brothers of another breed.

Rightly pointed out by him, Vishal has written about Bhutan both as critique and as courteous friend. The last time he flew to Bhutan March 10, Vishal produced this piece for the Diplomat, again emphatically revisiting the press freedom in this neo-democracy.

A part reproduced with kind permission of the author and

Bhutan has slipped from its previous year’s ranking of 92 to 104th place in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders. But does that mean that freedom of information is on the decline in this new democracy?

Surprisingly, the county’s government-controlled newspaper, Kuensel, has suggested it is.

“We do not know if the government would take the ranking seriously, or if they would even care,” its editors wrote in an editorial, about Bhutan’s new ranking in the index, using an accusatory tone.

“Reporters may have access to mobile numbers (of government officials), but has the access to information improved? Again the answer is a resounding ‘no,’” they added, noting. “Journalists are still frowned upon as nosy people. Those with information are tight lipped or ordered not to talk to media. This is one order that is strictly followed, as it could be interpreted as disobedience.”

Interestingly, the newspaper based its opinion only on the ranking, overlooking more important indicators in the index.

Countries are ranked based on their respective scores in the areas of pluralism of opinions expressed, media independence, environment and censorship, legislative framework, transparency of institutions, quality of infrastructure and level of violence and harassment. It is possible for a country to fall in the rankings if other nations show improvement.

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