Burma: Interim Press Council opposes Public Service Media bill
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Burma: Interim Press Council opposes Public Service Media bill

Members of the Interim Press Council (IPC) in Burma have voiced opposition to the Public Service Media (PSM) draft law. During a press conference at the Printing and Publishing Enterprise on Saturday, Dr Myo Thant Tin and Thiha Saw, members of the IPC, said the PSM draft law is a commercial project rather than legislation designed to support the media, The New Light of Myanmar reported.

According to the Deputy Information Minister of Burma, Ye Htut, the PSM has basic principles of representing all citizens. PSM is designed to bring up to date true and reliable news along with editorial independence, he said. It is also designed to promote financial independence with professional accountability, and strategic cooperation with other organizations.

The PSM draft was drawn up with the support of International Organizations including UNESCO and local and foreign experts, the deputy minister said.

Mr Sardar Umar Alam, Head of Project Office Myanmar (Burma) of UNESCO, and Mr Rophael Rawn, a legal expert from Germany, said the draft law is in line with international media norms, concluding that PSM should be established and the law enacted, the newspaper said.

However, the Press Council members said that the draft law need not cover journalistic ethics, duties and rights since the Press Council has already drafted those factors in the press law. The responsibilities and rights of the journalists should be on equal terms, they said.

Moreover, they also disagreed with PSM’s right to use to public funds, transportation and other preferences. It should pay the same tax as the public media businesses, they said.  The PC members totally rejected PSM’s 70 per cent spending of production costs from public funds. In addition, they also advised that it should stand on its own revenues and advertisement earnings because there is no State-funded public service media business in other countries. In brief, they said that the PSM should not be setting up more councils and committees at massive public cost.

The deputy minister said that it is true that the PSM draft law is comprehensive, but it does not go against any existing laws. The law is not intended to control private media outlets, Ye Htut insisted.

He also said that the PSM Council and Press Council are not in opposition with each other. He said that even though journalistic ethics, duties and rights have already been agreed by the Press Council, there are specific points PSM employees need to observe.

According to deputy minister, international public services media also set down comprehensive ethics and directives for their employees. In several foreign countries, he said, public service media receive a log of state funding, with some PSMs getting 97 percent of budget from government funds. The budget for Burma’s PSM will be decided by Parliament, he added.

Mr Alam from UNESCO said PSM Law is to correlate with the Press Council in a check-and-balance manner. There will be competition in all aspects as reforms take place in Burma, he said.

Chief Editor Wai Phyo of the Daily Eleven Media Group said that he objected to the PSM draft law as it appeared to compete with the private sector in term of market competition and media freedom. He also raised the question: “Is this a unilateral exploitation scheme prior to the 2015 Elections?”

International media watchdog groups have repeatedly urged Burmese authorities to scrap unethical laws governing freedom of expression. The Burmese government still needs to dump 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 press freedom.