The Kingdom of Bhutan is a territory located in the Hymalayan region. Its journalism community is young and has a lot of flaws because of the lack of experience in the field and government’s influence in the media. Since 2008, this nation has turned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, with a parliament and periodical elections.
“Imagine a country where reporters shy away from contentious issues,” said Madeline Drexler, an editor for the Harvard Public Health magazine, at her Nieman Reports’ article.
Even though the system changed in 2008, their national journalism organization finally was established in 2012. The Journalist Association of Bhutan (JAB) is recent, and faces problems such as the lack of quality reporting training, censorship by the government, lack of help from international NGOs and other media communication issues, stated by different studies.
According to a research conducted from the University of Sydney, based on a survey of 90 journalists from Bhutan, the median experience of a journalist in the field is 5 years. Also, 98% hold a degree, but only 23% of them hold a degree in communications or journalism. The lack of training in the field is hurting the industry now, and it is expected to be more affected in the long-term.
Bhutan’s journalism is influenced by the government, this does not mean that they are completely censored by the nation leaders. It means that the government has more power than the journalists when building a media agenda for the population.
“The 2018 Information, Communications and Media Act confirmed the creation of a Bhutan Infocomm and Media Authority whose five members are directly appointed by the government, which poses a major threat to media independence.” Reporters Without Borders, 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
This governamental method that chooses communication members with highly influence in media is hindering the ‘watchdog’ role that journalism needs to achieve in a state.
“Only 57.5% [journalists] said that they had complete freedom or a great deal of freedom in selecting stories, and only just over half (50.6%) said that they participate always or very often in editorial decisions.” Beati Josephi, Worlds of Journalism Study: Journalists in Bhutan (p. 4), University of Sydney.
This study suggested that the bureaucracy of Bhutan is not accustomed to being questioned by a watchful media. Besides, in this territory there are a few news sources, the most famous one: ‘Daily Bhutan’ which is written in English.
“At Daily Bhutan, we curate the top news from Bhutanese publications that appeal to foreign readers. We also cover lifestyle features and human interest stories that we believe the international audience will be interested in.” Daily Bhutan’s ‘About Us’ section.
Therefore, when it comes to deciding how to satisfy the needs of the readers, the Daily Bhutan thinks first on foreign readers and high class population. In other words, the government has settled high influence on the media channels agenda and in the media channels’ audience.
With the few training and experience in the field, and the indirect censorship, Bhutan’s journalism cannot develop at a faster pace. Hence, it is necessary the constant support and training from an international organization that can help Bhutanese reporters with these two main issues.
“If the media, especially Western media that has the most powerful voice globally, is not interested in the emerging voices of journalism in countries like Bhutan, then there is no hope for a free and fair press. My greatest fear is that democracy will fail.” Namgay Zam, Bhutan’s reporter, via email to Madeline Drexler,