Bhutan Political Orientation
Government Type: Constitutional Monarchy
Head of State: King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck
Prime Minister: Dr. Lotay Tshering
Political Party: Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT)
Political Position: Center-Left
MBFC’s Country Freedom Rating: 60.13 – Moderate Freedom
World Press Freedom Rank: Bhutan 90/180
In 2023, Bhutan ranked 90/180 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. Influenced by political shifts in neighboring Nepal, where the monarch was abolished in 2008 after a decade-long civil war, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck initiated Bhutan’s democratization. Since then, the media landscape has evolved, with the government owning the main daily, Kuensel, and the rise of private publications like The Bhutan Times and Bhutan Observer. However, RSF emphasizes that the Bhutan Broadcasting Service requires a special status for editorial independence.
Media Ownership and Government Analysis
The media in Bhutan comprises government-owned and privately-owned outlets. Kuensel is a government-owned newspaper, while Bhutan Times, Bhutan Observer, The Journalist, and Business Bhutan are privately-owned publications.
The field of journalism in Bhutan is in its early stages of development and relatively small in scale. The 2018 Information, Communications, and Media Act confirmed the powers of the Bhutan Infocomm and Media Authority, whose five members are directly appointed by the government, which poses a significant threat to media independence. Journalists report difficulties accessing state-held information. While Bhutan’s constitution ensures free speech, a law that prevents public officials from criticizing their agency or the government poses challenges. Rinzin Wangchuk, president of the Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB), notes that despite Bhutan being a safe place for journalism, self-censorship and limited access to information from civil servants are prevalent issues. Further, Journalists are silenced through legal actions such as libel and defamation cases.
Privately owned publications survive in a challenging economic environment, with a relatively low readership and insufficient advertising. Most ads are placed by government agencies, which account for 80% of the advertising revenue of print newspapers. This can have a direct editorial impact. For instance, in 2012, the government was accused of cutting back its ads with The Bhutanese, a weekly newspaper, in retaliation for an article listing corruption cases.
According to Freedom House, persistent issues include bias against Nepali-speaking and non-Buddhist minorities, self-censorship in the media, and the utilization of libel and defamation lawsuits to suppress journalists. In summary, the Government of Bhutan significantly influences media through censorship and control over advertising revenue.
Television’s introduction in Bhutan in 1999 marked a significant milestone for the country, reflecting its historical isolation and concerns about external influences. Bhutan’s media landscape has been gradually evolving since then, while the monarchy has also undergone changes in its own development. Both aspects reflect the ongoing transformation and progress in Bhutan. In general, the press is reasonably free but relies primarily on Government advertising which can result in self-censorship and information favorable toward the government.
Last Updated on July 19, 2023 by Media Bias Fact Check