Burma media reform hampered by three draft laws
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Burma media reform hampered by three draft laws

In March of this year, a delegation from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand convened a meeting with the major Myanmar media associations at Myanmar Media Resource Center in Yangon. There was a discussion about the changing media landscape and the prospect of forming a press club in Yangon.

As a consequence, a six-member delegation from Burma’s, also known as Myanmar, media realm paid a trip to Thailand and there was a press panel − Myanmar Media Panel: Rejoining the World Journalist Community − on June 12 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. There, they shared their views on the rapidly changing media market, the new daily newspapers starting up in the country, online and social media forums and also some hot issues challenging the Interim Press Council of Burma/Myanmar.

The speakers on the panel were Kyaw Yin Myint, upper Myanmar bureau chief for Modern, Kumudra, Dana and Warazein newspapers; Chit Win Maung, member of Myanmar Press Council and leading committee member of Myanmar Journalist Union(MJU); Ms. EiEi Myat, executive editor of Agri Business News Journal published by Ministry of Agricultural and Irrigation and a CEC member of Myanmar Journalist Association (MJA); Ms. Theingi Htun, senior reporter for Mizzima; “Jimmy” Han Htwe Aung, Asahi TV (Tokyo Channel 5); Teza Hlaing, a photojournalist for Irrawaddy News and a freelance video journalist for Radio Free Asia.

In Burma, press freedom is currently at a crossroads, the speakers said. The quasi-civilian government led by ex-general Thein Sein would like to maintain the country under limited or disciplined democracy while the mainstream general public wants a new phase of change. Citizens are demanding freedom of expression and association while the government is rigidly vetoing these basic rights.

In the midst of demands for a free press, the Burmese government granted permission for some of the private dailies that began publishing in the first week of April this year. It’s really a great risk for the publishers, editors, correspondents and even the distributors of the dailies in such a time of vagueness.  Out of the 16 private daily newspapers given permission to publish, four dailies began publishing on 1 April 2013.

Burma dissolved the press censorship board officially known as the 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, said the state-run newspapers.

Unquestionably, the dissolution of the censorship office was the result of the unity of journalists. The PSRD defended its rigid role up to the last breath. It was a historic and extraordinary event which occurred on 1 August last year that 92 journalists from Myanmar Journalists’ Association (MJA), Myanmar Journalists’ Network (MJN) and Myanmar Journalists’ Union (MJU) wearing black T-shirts decorated with the catchphrase ‘STOP KILLING PRESS’ launched a demonstration in the former capital Rangoon protesting against the suspension of two journals – the Voice Weekly and the Envoy Journal.

Again in March 2013, three media groups –MJA, MJN and 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.

Several journalists, along with the Committee For Freedom of Press (Myanmar), gathered at a media workshop at the Yuzana Garden Hotel in Yangon on 12 March calling on the government to revoke the drafted Printing and Publishing Bill.

The MOl’s draft bill systematically put up the grip of government on the print media freedom. It made certain its supremacy to exploit on license certificates as per revoking or fining.  The clause made the journalists angry because of the fact that it is no different from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law.

“If passed in its current form, the draft law will essentially replace Burma’s old censorship regime with a similarly repressive new one,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Banning news topics and legalizing the jailing of journalists is utterly inconsistent with the press freedom guarantees that authorities vowed the new law would promote. We urge lawmakers to amend this draft in a way that protects, and not restricts, press freedom.”

Concerning Burma’s press freedom, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) says in its press freedom report (2013), “To date, there is not much tangible proof of media reform, apart from the dissolution of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, and the publication of private news dailies that began on 1 April 2013.”

In such a blurred situation, the Public Service Media (PSM) draft law came out during a press conference at the Printing and Publishing Enterprise on 8 June, 2013. According to the Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut, the PSM draft has the basic principles of representing all citizens.

According to Chit Win Maung, member of the Myanmar Interim Press Council, he as well as the council objected to the PSM draft law as it appeared to go up against the private sector in term of market competition and media freedom. The most controversial issue is that 70 percent of the budget for Burma’s PSM will have to be provided by the state funds, he said.

He also mentioned during the press conference that if the information ministry has to submit the PSM draft law to the parliament, there are altogether three draft laws concerning the media freedom reason. It seems making more complication on press freedom with media ethics.

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

In the interim, the responsibility is on the ‘Interim Press Council’ to present a well-defined press law bill. So far, no one could say the outcome of the media reform process, as the representatives of the journalists diligently keep on with drafting their press law.