Bhutan observed World Press Freedom Day today. The event was timely given the country’s ranking in terms of free press plummeting over the years. It further plummeted from 82nd position in 2013 to 92nd in 2014.
The event was also timely for some introspection given that most news organizations in the country today are in a precarious condition, never knowing when a few might have to fold for good.
Journalists at the event agreed that media needs to do more by adhering to the values of journalism – that we are here to serve the public, the commitment to ethics, that journalism is not a vocation but a calling. Deliberations also centered on the challenges confronted by the media to be independent and so as to exercise its freedom.
While it has been unanimously agreed fact that a free and an independent press is the prime requisite of a vibrant democracy, it was also acknowledged that sustainability issues have impacted media’s freedom and independence today.
This is also ostensible today. As such, exploring other sources of revenue for the media was also deliberated at length given the media’s huge dependence on government’s advertisements. Given that 90 percent of advertisements in the media come from the government, the issue of the government, perhaps, clamping down on the media in the wake of critical coverage by the media was also raised.
We saw that happen in 2012. The circular issued by the information and communications ministry regarding giving advertisements to the media created quite a ruckus then. There was also this sentiment that the government is targeting newspapers that are critical in their news coverage, subtly though, by severing their very lifeline or advertisements.
Such practices, however, continue even today. Take for example the recent report in the media, where a senior and dedicated reporter was allegedly reprimanded by the Business Opportunities and Information Centre management for running a story on the organization. Besides it was also allegedly conveyed that this new organization would sever all ads and printing works to that particular newspaper. What can we expect from news organizations in such circumstances? What if all government agencies and departments were to take a similar stand against the media?
Perhaps, such scenario subtly also explains the country’s drop in press ranking.