Burma’s Lower House session continued for 9th day at People Parliament Hall in Parliament Complex in Nay-Pyi-Taw on Tuesday, attended by Lower House Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann and 394 Members of Parliament. At Tuesday’s session, six questions were replied; one proposal submitted; and one bill submitted, the state-run New Light of Myanmar said.
Out of six questions, the most interesting one was about the possibility of publishing private-owned daily newspapers. No private owned daily newspapers are allowed up to now. No independent radios or televisions are permitted thus far. MP Thein Nyunt of Thingangyun Constituency raised a question that private newspapers were allowed to print under the 1962 Printing and Publishers Registration Act even under the then military junta. So, he wanted to know whether the government has planned to give green light to publish private newspapers according to the Printers and Publishers Registration Law (1962).
Union Minister for Information Aung Kyi replied that some private newspapers were working during the period between 1965 and 1967 once in a while when the Printers and Publishers Registration Law (1962) was still in force. Green light will be given to publication of private newspapers soon. By this means, he said, a new media environment is being set up in cooperation with respective media. The Union Government would allow the publication of daily private newspapers at an opportune time, Aung Kyi replied.
Thein Nyunt asked further that he would like to know the more accurate time for publishing daily papers. The Information Minister said that it depends on the facts that how the remaining organizations including the Press Council would implement institutions without delay in the process of new media reforms. According to Aung Kyi’s answer, Government is not ready to make a decision giving fixed dates for private dailies.
However, Aung Kyi had an interview with the Myanmar Times Journal on 2 September, and he spoke in support of abolishing the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law. He told Myanmar Times that it is essential for a democratic country to allow private-owned daily newspapers to operate and predicted that daily publishing licenses will be issued to the private sector early next year.
Dr. Than Htut Aung, Chairman and CEO of Eleven Media Group, made a comment on this matter.
“Two months ago, the information minister disclosed the publication of private newspapers would be allowed at the start of 2013. Both local and international media reported the news about it. The government’s attitude towards the private media is not clear. It has no sincerity. Oppressing and controlling the independent media mean the government has no wish to exercise genuine democracy,” Dr. Than Htut Aung highlights his view in the Eleven Media Group’s web-page.
“No idea of amending the 2008 Constitution means no idea of establishing national reconciliation, national consolidation and peace. (Only this point was highlighted at the peace dialogue with KIO.) Not having these two points will push the country backward direction and never bring peace. Everyone will no longer believe in the government,” he remarked.
U Win Tin, a veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of Hanthawady Daily, also told the EMG concerning the private dailies: “The government talked about the publication of private newspapers variously. What they have said is not right yet when a new information minister was appointed. On one occasion, they said private newspapers could be published in early 2013. On another occasion, they said again that it was not possible. Anyhow, what we heard is who has been allowed to publish and who will be allowed. In that regard, the time has come to publish private newspapers. 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.”
“Another thing is that they should assess who is appropriate and capable of publishing a private newspaper. It is rumoured that the government has handpicked some to publish private newspapers and that they are getting prepared and seeking new employees. I think it is not appropriate. I completely favour private newspapers. Even the Kyemon and Myanma Alin newspapers must be privatized. This is my opinion. Private newspapers must emerge. State-run newspapers should not exist,” he criticized strongly.
Taking into consideration of Aung San Suu Kyi’s pragmatic political move, people believe that Burma is struggling at a crossroads with the intention of starting a political restructuring. While the majority population wishes a genuine chapter of democratic changes, the quasi-civilian government wants to maintain the country under limited or guided democracy. The disciplined democracy the regime used to say is no more than restricted freedom.
Above all, citizens are demanding freedom of expression and freedom of press while the Thein Sein government is reluctant to allow the basic rights of the citizens.
If the government is sincere enough regarding democratic reforms, the media must be free along with the inauguration since free speech and access to information is fundamental to a healthy democracy. But, there is no sign of permission for daily newspapers in Burma until now.
Even though, Information Minister has immediately responded the question in his website (http://www.ministryofinformation.gov.mm) today. He said that he will not fail to keep his promise and he has been doing his best to accomplish the emergence of the daily newspapers. He also made a call to the media circle to help implementing respective institutions urgently at the heart of new media reforms.