In light of recent efforts by the government, many people believe that Burma is in the process of real political reform. While the majority of Burmese people hope for a genuine chapter of democratic changes, the quasi-civilian government wants to control the country under limited or guided democracy.

Above all, citizens are demanding freedom of expression and freedom of the press. If the government is to be open regarding democratic reforms, the media must become free as early as possible since free speech and access to information are fundamental to a healthy democratic system.

In November last year, MP Thein Nyunt of Thingangyun Constituency said that private newspapers were allowed under the 1962 Printing and Publishers Registration Act even under the then military junta. He asked whether the government has planned to give green light to publish private newspapers according to the Printers and Publishers Registration Law (1962).

U Win Tin speaks at a media meeting with FCCT and SEAPA in Yangon, on 21 March 2013. (Photo Credit: Jeanne Marie Hallacy's FB)

After some negotiation, applications were invited by Ministry of Information starting from 1 February 2013 for publication of daily newspapers starting on 1 April 2013.  The Ministry issued announcements through state-run dailies calling for applicants.  Out of 17 applications eight applicants were granted temporary permission to publish dailies as of 1 April 2013.

According to the state-run New Light of Myanmar, the successful applicants were:  The Daily Eleven,  San Taw CheinKhit Thit Daily, Yangon Times, Myanmar DikaD WavePyidaungsu Athan and 7 Day Daily.

The announcement said that three remaining applications which are under inspection and the new applications will be scrutinized at the coordination meeting of Central Supervisory Committee for Registration and Distribution of Printers and Publishers to be held in April 2013.

U Win Tin, a veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of Hanthawady Daily, told the media last year concerning the private dailies: “If possible, state-run newspapers should not exist. The Kyemon and Myanma Alin dailies were privately owned in the past. I think they should be privatized now.”

People read publications at a roadside shop in Yangon. Pic: AP.

Although the eight new titles are welcome, the media in Burma is far from free. Earlier this mont the media groups of Burma – Myanmar Journalists’ Association (MJA), Myanmar Journalists’ Network (MJN) and Myanmar Journalists’ Union (MJU) – protested against the draft of the Printing and Publishing Law drawn up by the Ministry of Information (MOI) submitted to Parliament on 27 February, 2013.

The MOI’s draft bill maintains government power over the media. Journalists are angry due to the fact that it is no different from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law that was enacted by the late Gen. Ne Win, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of the Union of Burma.

So, Burma press freedom looks to be struggling under the same old restrictions. Although eight applicants have been granted temporary permission to publish dailies as of 1 April 2013, the newspapers have to abide by the existing 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act.