There have been incidents where the government or cabinet ministers harass, use lawsuits, and other means to force journalists to censor themselves for reporting lapses and failures of the government.
However, in connection with the freedom of press, the foreign minister Dr. Tandi Dorji, at the ongoing National Assembly session, said the government has no censorship deals or walls to control information both in the mainstream and on social media.
“Journalists have the right to write whatever they intend to cover. But at the same time, they must take the accountability of their work and ensure it is in line with the media policy framed by the government,” he said.
Lyonpo added that a lot of efforts have been made by journalists’ association to enhance press freedom through support from each other.
“In addition, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) also organizes open hose dialogue where the representatives of the media houses discuss strengthening the press freedom,” he continued, adding the ministry met the print media fraternity last year and social media writers this year to discuss ways to support them.
He said the government has established a media council mainly to strengthen and promote press freedom, and also reporting without fear in accordance with the Information Communication and Media Act of Bhutan, which was wholly supported by the media fraternity.
He added that it is clearly reflected in the standard operating procedures (SOP) and the MoIC has been providing full support to the media professionals. “If we look at the global press freedom ranking, Bhutan improved from 65th in 2021 to 33rd in 2022. This indicates its progression,” Lyonpo said.
Foreign minister Dr. Tandi Dorji was responding to the Jomotsangkha-Martshala constituency’s Member of Parliament (MP) Norbu Yangzom on what the government is doing to support the media and to enhance freedom of press, and freedom of speech.
Norbu Yangzom said that journalists would face the danger of losing their fundamental right to seek and disseminate information.
“We have learned that the journalists were occasionally not given the information they seek while some face harassment from the government,” she said. “Journalists reporting without fear are crucial to informing the nation in a democratic system.”
To strengthen democracy, she said, it is important to strengthen the press. “For this, the government and the public must share information with the media without fear. Thus it is their right to inform the public without fear,” she added.
Besides, referring to the recent incidence of relieving two foresters from service on compulsory retirement with benefits for speaking to the media, she says, this incident has increased attention to censorship issues.
On this front, the Minister for Agriculture and Forests, Yeshey Penjor, clarified to the House that the forestry officials were compulsory retired not because they talked to the media, but for violating orders for deployment and the civil service values.