By Zin Linn
On August 6 some most important news journals – such as The Messenger and The Nation – in Burma blacked out their cover pages as a sign of protest amid rising discontentment with long-lasting limits on the freedom of press.
On the same day, officials of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD) met with publishers and editors of the Voice Weekly Journal and the Envoy Journal on Monday and gave explanation about the suspension of the two weekly journals for breaking the 44th directives of the Printers and Publishers Registration and Press Scrutiny and Distribution Central Supervisory Committee, The New Light of Myanmar said today.
The PSRD said during the meeting that it has suspended the two weekly journals for two weeks as a punishment. The state-run newspaper said the two sides openly discussed the challenges and sought ways for coordination between them.
According to the PSRD, it met with the publisher and the editor of the Envoy Journal on 5 May, 2012, and the Voice Weekly journal on 18 June, 2012, and instructed them to follow the directives of the central supervisory committee. The PSRD said it had no alternative but to suspend the two weekly journals for two weeks as they broke the instructions of the department again, the paper reported.
Several dozens of journalists wearing black T-shirts decorated with the slogan ‘STOP KILLING PRESS’ launched a protest in Yangon and Mandalay on Saturday to defy the suspension of two journals, amid fears that PSRD bureaucrats are returning to strict draconian censorship laws.
Authorized persons of the PSRD said that after the new government took office, the Information Ministry laid down two policies regarding publishers. The first policy is to adjust the rules and laws and directives of the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act before the new print media law is ratified. The second policy is to draft the new print media law.
The officials of the PSRD clarified that corresponding to the first policy, it had changed its policy and relaxed four steps from June, 2011, to May, 2012 and it has currently worked to go into the fifth step.
According to The New Light of Myanmar, the new print media law has been drafted with reference to the second policy. The Information Ministry has drawn the draft from July to December 2011 and sent the first draft to the Union Attorney- General Office in January, 2012. Then, the process went on with the second draft in April, 2012, the third draft in May, 2012, the fourth and fifth draft in June, 2012 respectively.
The PSRD officials said that the draft media law was sent to the President Office in June, 2012 and accepted the advicesof the legal advisory group of the President in July, 2012. The Information Ministry and the Union Attorney-General Office are in coordination with each other to complete the bill. They confirmed that the bill will be introduced to the ongoing Parliament soon after seeking authorization from the President Office.
Before the new press law came into sight, the officials said, some rules and laws and directives of the existing 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act are being exercised. Hence, the actions were taken against the two weekly journals in accordance with the existing laws, The New Light of Myanmar said referring to PSRD officials.
On January 30-31, the new media law, drafted by the Information Ministry’s PSRD was introduced at a two-day media workshop jointly organized by the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association and Singapore-based Asia Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC). Tint Swe, the deputy director general of the PSRD, presented some hints of the draft bill but not the subject matter of the press law.
However, a source close to the censorship office said that the draft law itself was adapted from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act ratified after the military coup by the late Gen Ne Win. Moreover, the draft law was prepared by the PSRD under the guidelines of the Information Minister. This was an unacceptable drafting process in the absence of media professionals and journalists.
If the government has a plan to draw up a press law, it should looknto the international experiences concerning ‘press law’ and ‘press council’. The government must allow the participation of experienced journalists, editors, producers and publishers from respective media fields.
Furthermore, the government should invite media law experts, journalism consultants, human rights defenders and members of media watchdog groups internationally in order to create a standardized press law and press council to honor the ‘Freedom of the Press’
On August 1, 92 journalists from Myanmar Journalists’ Association (MJA), Myanmar Journalists’ Network (MJN) and Myanmar Journalists’ Union (MJU) held a meeting at the Royal Rose Garden in Yangon. They formed the ‘Committee for Freedom of Press’ and then released a seven-point press statement.
The statement demands the sacking of persons who oppose the reform plan while the country has been on a track of democratic change. It also claims that laws governing freedom of expression are terminated, especially the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act.
Besides, the journalists declared that if the government endorsed a ‘Press Law’ without seeking advice from the stakeholders of the press, they will not accept any outcome concerning the new bill.
The media watchdog groups have been urging the Burmese authorities repeatedly to dump the unethical laws governing freedom of expression, especially the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act including other oppressive laws.