Opinion: Burma’s press far from free as private dailies launch
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Opinion: Burma’s press far from free as private dailies launch

The publication of four private dailies in Burma this week is welcome, but the underlying problems still remain

Amid pressure for a free press, the Burmese government invited applications for private dailies starting from 1 February 2013. Some of the papers that were granted permission began publishing this week.

It’s really a great risk for the publishers, editors, correspondents and even the distributors of the dailies in such a time of uncertainty.  They are taking part in a movement for press freedom in a country which infamous for its restrictions on the media.

(READ MORE: Privately owned daily newspapers return to Burma)

Out of the 16 private daily newspapers givin permission to publish, four dailies – Pyidaungsu Daily (Union Daily), Shwe Naing Ngan Thit Daily (Golden Freshland Daily), San Taw Chein Daily (Standard Times Daily) and Voice Daily – began publishing on Monday.  Private daily newspapers in Burma (also known as Myanmar) were outlawed 1964 under the military junta run by the late Gen. Ne Win. The then privately owned newspapers, including The New Light of Myanmar (Burmese version), The Mirror (Burmese version) and The Guardian (English version), were nationalized by the military regime in 1964.

A dozen more remaining permitted daily newspapers are likely to hit they streets soon. They include Khit Moe Daily, Empire Daily, The Messenger, Eleven Daily, The Yangon Times and D-Wave (the newspaper of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy party).

Of course, there are already a number of State-run newspapers circulating daily in Burma (which is officially known as Myanmar). They are namely Myanmar Alin (Burmese version), Kyemon (The Mirror, Burmese version), Myawaddy (Burmese version), The New Light of Myanmar (English version) and Yadanarpon (Burmese version).

Censorship has not always been rife in Burma. Indeed, form the late ’40s to the early ’60s it was seen as a leader of press freedom in the Southeast Asia region. The 1947 Constitution of Burma  promised citizens the right to enjoy freedom of expression and opinions. Journalists and reporters were allowed to enter the Prime Minister’s office and parliament without any limitation. As many as three dozen newspapers, including English and Chinese dailies, existed between 1948 and 1962 under the civilian government.

The situation changed in 1962, when the military seized power. All newspapers were nationalized by the junta led by Gen. Ne Win. The junta established a Press Scrutiny Board to enforce strict censorship practices on all forms of printed matter, including advertising and obituaries. ‘The Printers and Publishers Registration Law’ was introduced shortly after the 1962 military coup. Despite this week’s developments, this law is still and place and continues to threaten press freedom in Burma.

Burma dissolved the press censorship board officially known as Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) in January. According to the state-run New Light of Myanmar, the termination of PSRD was approved during the cabinet meeting held on 24 January 2013. However, in place of PSRD, the “Copyrights and Registration Division” will be formed under the Information and Public Relations Department, NLM newspaper said.

Last month three media groups – Myanmar Journalists’ Association (MJA), Myanmar Journalists’ Network (MJN) and Myanmar Journalists’ Union (MJU) – protested against the draft of the new Printing and Publishing Law drawn up by the Ministry of Information (MOI) submitted to Parliament on 27 February, 2013. They protested because MOI did not consult with media stakeholders before it put forward the draft bill to the House.

The MOI’s draft bill maintains government control over the media. Journalists are angry due to the fact that it is nlittle different from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law that was enacted by the late Gen. Ne Win. Even though private dailies are allowed, the new draft law strictly controls what they report.

The 16 daily newspapers granted permission to publish are: Khit Moe, Pyidaungsu Daily (Union Daily), Shwe Naging Ngan Thit (The Golden Fresh Nation), The Emperor, The Messenger, Mizzima, Myanmar NewsweekNout Sone Nay Sin Htote Thadinsar (Daily Update), The Daily Eleven,  San Taw CheinKhit Thit DailyYangon TimesMyanmar DikaD WavePyidaungsu Athan and 7 Day Daily.