Freedom of speech and media in Bhutan: Hope still lingers

Bhutan is often referred as the ‘Last Shangril-la’ or the ‘Land of Happy People’ or the ‘Land of GNH.’ This goes to show that despite our short-comings of not having abundant resources and capitals that advanced nations are endowed with, we are indeed a happy bunch of people, content with whatever little we are blessed with.

However, if Bhutan was to ensure this happiness tag stay with us even during the times of our future generations and generations that will follow thereafter, the key ingredient that we need to sow today is media freedom – that will guarantee an all encompassing freedom of speech and expression.

Our visionary fourth Druk Gyalpo, to ensure that the sacred thread of freedom of media is guaranteed, enshrined it in our constitution and also privatized mainstream media in 2006 giving full autonomy to private media so that the voices of all, including of those in the lowest rung, are heard and respected.

Nonetheless, there has been a few hurdles in between when a about a decade ago a powerful party tried to sue and snub a respected public figure for defamation. The court verdict then went in the latter’s favour ensuring that individual rights and voices were not snubbed.

Then came a powerful businessman with equally powerful connections who tried to silence a journalist into submitting to his power and connections. However, the public outcry and support was so resounding that the so-called aggressor was made to withdraw his case and off he went with his tails tugged under his legs – a victory for the nation’s conscience.

Alas, a commoner known by the name ‘Penjore Penjore’ was on the cusp of being overrun by tyranny when the nation’s premier law enforcing institution, the joint forces of OAG and RBP, tried to silence him and put him behind bars for speaking and writing the truth in a public forum. Even this time, truth prevailed and there is an unseen aura of hope that freedom of media and expression is still a reality in the country, and held sacred as is reflected in our hallowed constitution.

Incidences like these, while not supposed to happen, are true tests that guarantees its citizens these fundamental rights instead of just enshrining it in a document. The victory of commoner Penjore is a victory of the nation and a testimony that we are living by the true precepts of what His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo has propagated, that every individual has equal say as long as it is not fabricated oe engineered to harm or ruin others.   

And, while the RCSC are trying to devise newer schemes and are coming up with draconian laws to snub their ‘civil servants’ from sharing vital information to the public, the government of the day has ensured that they will hold the precepts of media freedom sacred and will ensure that vital information and truth is not pulled down under the rug and let it dust.

The foreign minister reaffirming this in the ongoing parliament session is even more heartening because it is how it is meant to be. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t dimmed after all.