Burma state-run newspapers plan to change into ‘public service media’
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Burma state-run newspapers plan to change into ‘public service media’

The state-owned newspapers of Burma, the English language New Light of Myanmar, Burmese version Myanma Alin and Kyemon (The Mirror), are under preparation to transform into ‘public service media’ the state-run media said on Saturday. Three state-owned dailies are going to re-establish, with a fresh leading body, the newspapers reported.

The Government of Burma (Myanmar) has formed the five-member Governing Body in order to transform the three dailies: Myanma Alin, Kyemon and the New Light of Myanmar currently run by the Ministry of Information into Public Service Media (PSM) under Notification No 72/2012 dated 18-10-2012, the state-run media said on 20 October.

Ye Tint, retired Chief Editor of the Kyemon Daily, is the chairman of the Governing Body and the secretary is Kyaw Soe, Managing Director of News and Periodicals Enterprise. Three other members are Ye Myint Pe (retired Chief Editor of Myanma Alin Daily), Ye Naing Moe (Journalism Expert) and Kyaw Zaw Naing (Legal Expert) respectively.

The newly formed Governing Body will adopt necessary policies and programmes, draw necessary ethics and principles for the newspapers and supervise the task for realization of principles of Public Service Media so as to transform Myanma Alin, Kyemon and the New Light of Myanmar to public service media outlets, according to a Government Notification.

Burma’s information ministry had put an end to its out-of-date censorship laws in August. The extraordinary stance seemed the most noteworthy in a series of wide-ranging reforms since the ending of the military junta’s ruling in November 2010.

On August 1 this year, 92 journalists from Myanmar Journalists’ Association (MJA), Myanmar Journalists’ Network (MJN) and Myanmar Journalists’ Union (MJU) held a meeting in Yangon.  They formed the ‘Committee for Freedom of Press’ and then released a seven-point press statement.

The statement demands the sacking of persons who oppose the reform plan while the country has been on a track of democratic change. It also insisted that laws governing freedom of expression are terminated, especially the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act.

Besides, the journalists declared that if the government endorsed a ‘Press Law’ without seeking advice from the stakeholders of the press, they will not accept any outcome concerning the new bill.

The media watchdog groups have been urging the Burmese authorities repeatedly to dump the unethical laws governing freedom of expression, especially the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act and other oppressive laws.

On August 27, Burma’s President Thein Sein appointed Aung Kyi as new Information Minister in the cabinet reshuffle. The media circle has confidence that the new Information Minister will facilitate support of true press freedom in Burma.

On 17 September, an interim press council was created at the Chatrium Hotel in Rangoon since the majority of media workers have rejected the Formation of Myanmar Core Press Council (MCPC) with government appointees. The new Information Minister Aung Kyi also attended the meeting concerning reform of the new press council.

After a 1962 military coup, all newspapers were nationalized by the then junta, and the three public dailies – Myanma Alin, Kyemon and the New Light of Myanmar – downgraded into the junta’s mouthpieces. The junta established a Press Scrutiny Board to enforce strict censorship practices on all forms of printed matter, including advertisements and obituaries. The military junta’s censorship and self-censorship became commonplace, and have severely restricted political rights and civil liberties.

One of the new five-member Governing Body, Ye Naing Moe told AFP that the new governing body will slowly replace the information ministry in overseeing the state press. He is a freelance media trainer.

“The ministry will gradually step back and we will fill the vacuum in the future. They will even sell some shares, although not all,” he told AFP. “I don’t think we will have 100 per cent independence, but I hope we can have enough to push through this transformation.”

In the 1950s, Burma was at the vanguard of press freedom in Southeast Asia. The country had the benefit of a free press without censorship office. As many as three dozen newspapers, including English, Chinese and Hindu dailies existed between 1948 and 1962 under the civilian government. Even the prime minister’s office was never closed to journalists in those days. They were also free to set up relations with international news agencies.

The Burmese government also needs to abandon the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, article 505-B of the criminal code, the 1996 Television and Video Act, the 1996 Computer Science Development Act, the 1923 Officials Secrets Act and the 1933 Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act which are still threatening the press.