Freedom of the Press

Bhutan

Bhutan

Freedom of the Press 2015

2015 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

59

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

21

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

20

Legal Environment

The 2008 constitution guarantees the right to free speech, opinion, and expression. However, the 1992 National Security Act prohibits criticism of the king, as well as “words either spoken or written that undermine or attempt to undermine the security and sovereignty of Bhutan by creating or attempting to create hatred and disaffection among the people.”

Defamation can be tried as either a civil or a criminal offense. In September 2014, the opposition party Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) brought a defamation suit against Dasho Paljor J Dorji, popularly known as Dasho Benji, a special adviser to the National Environment Commission; the suit concerned a Facebook comment in which Dasho claimed that the party, in power until 2013, had “robbed the country blind.” In November, the DPT said it would withdraw the suit if Dasho Benji apologized, but he refused, and the case remained open at year’s end.

In February 2014, the National Assembly passed a right to information bill, which then went to the National Council, the parliament’s upper house, for review. In May the National Council delayed action on the measure after the chamber’s foreign relations committee said it had been unable to schedule a presentation of the bill by the information and communications ministry, and that as a result it was unable to carry out an effective review. The National Council suggested that interference from the prime minister’s office prevented the bill’s presentation. Meanwhile, critics of the legislation argued that it contained some restrictive provisions.

The Journalists’ Association of Bhutan (JAB) is tasked with upholding the interests of journalists across the country and protecting free expression in the media. However, the organization is not fully independent in practice, notably because it relies on the government-run Bhutan Media Foundation for the majority of its funding.

 

Political Environment

Criticism of the royal family and of Buddhist clergy is not published, and the mainstream media avoid topics that are considered sensitive, such as national security or the expulsion of Nepali-speaking residents in the 1990s. However, as in much of the world, social media have given citizens, particularly young people, the opportunity to express themselves more freely online. There were no reports of threats or intimidation directed at journalists in 2014.

 

Economic Environment

Bhutan has 10 newspapers, six radio stations, one online newspaper, and a number of magazines. The country’s main print outlet, the state-owned, biweekly Kuensel, generally portrays the monarchy in a favorable light, but also addresses societal problems and carries stories that are critical of the government. The public Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) offers radio programming and is the only national television broadcaster, operating two channels. Cable television services carry some foreign programming, but high sales taxes and regulatory obstacles make access costs prohibitive for many people in Bhutan. Internet penetration stood at 34 percent of the population in 2014.

Almost all media outlets are based in Thimphu, the capital. Bhutan’s fragile economic climate continues to pose a challenge for private media companies, many of which are dependent on advertising revenue distributed by state bodies. Some media outlets have suspended or scaled back operations for financial reasons in recent years.