Burma Lower House endorses controversial media bill
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Burma Lower House endorses controversial media bill

The Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill submitted by the Ministry of Information with amendments was approved at Thursday’s Lower House of Parliament session, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported today.

“As the fourth pillar, the media play an essential part in the democratization processes. I am also a former media person and still  contribute an article every Monday for the Yangon Times Daily.  The government needs to protect the media and its freedom. This law can protect publishers. However, we need to do our best to upgrade media law up to an international standard,” said Thein Nyunt of Thingangyun Constituency.

The Lower House approved the controversial Printing and Publishing Enterprise Draft Law, even though members of the interim press council argue that the bill still includes measures that hinder media freedom. However, the bill has many supporters.

Khaing Maung Yi of Ahlon Constituency  said, “The press bill is urgently needed. It is essential for the smooth functioning of publishing business enterprises. The bill willbring benefits to people, printers and publishers.”

According to Democratic Voice of Burma, Interim Press Council member Zaw Thet Htwe said the press body is holding an emergency meeting on Friday in response to the Lower House’s approval of the draft media law.

“During negotiations with the Ministry of Information, we pointed out clauses [that would limit press freedom] and we learnt that those clauses were still included in the draft law that was approved by the Lower House today,” said Zaw Thet Htwe.  “This means that the negotiations and discussions we had with the [ministry] were fruitless and this can hurt the cooperation between the Press Council and the Ministry of Information in the future. So we are going to talk with the Press Council members about how to deal with this.”

With the Lower House’s amendments, the draft law will have to pass on to Upper House for endorsement. If both Houses have the same opinion on the bill, then the Union Parliament has the power to enforce the draft legislation into law.

After the Ministry of Information submitted the draft law in February, journalists and watchdog agencies unleashed heavy criticism of the bill for containing provisions that pushed authoritarian measures that would allow for the continuation of censorship.

In March this year, three media groups – MJA, MJN and MJU – protested against the draft Printing and Publishing Law. It was 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 March 12 calling on the government to revoke the drafted Printing and Publishing Bill.

The MOl’s draft bill strengthens government control over print media freedom. Many journalists say that it is no different from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law.

The President Thein Sein government wants to keep the country under limited or guided democracy while the greater part of population desires a genuine democratic change. Citizens continue to demand freedom of expression and association while the government is vetoing the people’s basic rights. Free press has had no chance so far in Burma.

The 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 April 1, 2013.”

International media watchdog groups have repeatedly urged authorities of Burma to revoke unethical laws governing freedom of expression. The 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 menacing press freedom.