Will Burma create a fair press law and a free press council?By Zin Linn Feb 18, 2012 11:24PM UTC
The people’s parliament session of Myanmar (Burma) continued for the fifth day at the People’s Parliament Hall in the Parliamentary Building in Nay Pyi Taw on Friday, attended by the Speaker of the People’s Parliament (Lower House) Thura Shwe Mann and 346 Pyithu Hluttaw representatives, state-owned media said today. At Friday’s session, 11 questions were asked and answered, one proposal was discussed and one proposal submitted, according to the New Light of Myanmar.
MP Tin Maung Oo of Shwe-pyi-tha constituency asked questions on: “How to deal with the disappearance of one-sided features of media houses which is the country’s fourth estate, emergence of journals that can actually reflect the people’s wishes and desires, getting rid of self-interested people for the publication of journals with affordable investments and measures to protect young reporters for promoting their skills and qualifications.”
The Deputy Minister for Information Soe Win replied that since the new government has taken office, the Ministry of Information has controlled the media sector through press scrutiny policies in order to halt biased writings in the country’s fourth estate. He said that journalists on their part are to do their works with a sense of liberty and accountability, rationality.
When the press law comes out, the media has to obey the law and biased articles and news might disappear if journalists and the public do not accept it, the Deputy Minister said. Soe Win also said that there should be ‘freedom and accountability’ and ‘freedom and rationality’ in the fourth estate publishing unbiased periodicals conveying the people’s wishes with self-respect. Based on national interest, journalists must represent an issue from various angles for public information.
The deputy minister also explained that government has laid down five policies to ensure unity in democracy in the literary world. In the future, a ‘Press Council’ will be formed in harmony with the press law and it will supervise journalistic work. When the new publishing law comes into force, people will have to be in charge of the literary sphere within its framework, he said.
In addition, Deputy Minister Soe Win said that the Ministry of Information and the Myanmar Writers and Journalist Association (MWJA) are in cooperation in conducting basic journalism and special journalism courses. International scholars as well as internal experienced journalists have been invited to give lectures.
According to the deputy minister, three basic journalism courses have produced about 150 young journalists. Two basic writers’ courses have also produced about 100 new writers.
In the future, the ‘Press Council’ and ‘MWJA’ will carry out journalism courses, workshops, and seminars. Moreover, publishers and printing houses will also contribute to improve the criterion for journalists. Journalists themselves will have to try hard with confidence for the emergence of a proper fourth estate, the Deputy Minister Soe Win explained.
Although Soe Win explained about the press law and the press council, he did not clarify the procedures relating to the law and the council. In actual fact, there is no journalists’ association in the country so as to promote and protect the rights of members in the field of media. And the future press council should not be a government-appointed club similar to the Myanmar Human Rights Commission.
In January, the new media law, drafted by the Ministry of Information’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD) was introduced at a two-day media workshop jointly organized by the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association and Singapore-based Asia Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC). Tint Swe, the deputy director general of the PSRD, presented some hints of the draft law but not the subject matter of the press law.
However, a source close to PSRD said that the draft law itself was adapted from the Printers and Publishers Registration Act enacted after the military coup by Ne Win in 1962.
If the government has a plan to draw a press law, it should let the participation of experienced journalists, editors, producers and publishers from respective media fields. Furthermore, the government should invite media law experts, journalism consultants, human rights defenders and members of media watchdog groups internationally in order to create a standardized press law and press council to honor the freedom of the press.
Unless the government guarantees human rights including the freedom of expression and freedom of association, the international human rights watchdog groups will not believe that Burma is on the correct path of a democratic reform.