By Zin Linn
There are discussions about media law or press law and the press council amidst the media environs, since the news of the draft law seems to be submitted in this ongoing parliament sessions. Ye Htut, director general of Information and Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Information, said in March the ministry hoped the new print media law would be in place by the end of this year and that private daily newspapers would be allowed shortly after its promulgation.
President Thein Sein delivered an address on March 1, 2012 at the third regular session of first Union Parliament in commemoration of the first anniversary of the government’s inauguration, according to the state media.
In his speech, the president highlighted the necessity of forming a press council in the near future. He said: “The Formation of National Press Council is under way in order that media sector, the fourth estate, can ensure liberty and accountability with the check and balance system in accord with the democratic practices.”
Burmese writers established the MWJA with permission from the Ministry of Information in 1993. Countless free journalists in Burma accused the association as too close to the government. However, the media setting is rapidly changing in the country. It is vague whether the new associations will have opportunity to enjoy their freedom of expression.
According to the International Media Support, two media guideline workshops, supported by the governments of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, held in late April 2012, brought together government officials, local and independent media representatives and outside experts to jointly move forward in improving media environment in Burma. Jointly arranged by the Ministry of information and IMS, the workshops, one for broadcast media on 23 April in Naypyitaw and one for print in Yangon on 25 April focused on key international standards, regulatory models, ethical standards, and sources, and the drafting of a broadcast regulatory framework.
Myanmar or Burma’s Information and Culture Minister Kyaw Hsan met the personnel of the preparation committee for formation of Myanmar Writers Association, Myanmar Printers and Publishers Association, the preparation committee for formation of Myanmar Journalists Association, and the preparation committee for formation of Myanmar Publishers and Books Sellers Association on 13 May and the personnel of Myanmar Journalists Union and Myanmar Journalists Network on 14 May at the meeting-hall of Myanmar Radio and Television on Pyay Road in Yangon, the Ne Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on 17 May.
Speaking at the respective meetings, Minister Kyaw Hsan said his ministry has been focusing on turning media into the proficient and reliable Fourth Estate under current transition period.
Since the approval of the 2008 Constitution, the ministry has taken a series of press reforms under the new charter he said. Minister Kyaw Hsan said he believed that writers and journalists organizations long for the emergence of an authentic Fourth Estate, for which the Information Ministry has to work together with all the associations.
He also explained that his ministry is drafting print media law to systematically free the control over press. So that journalists can do in harmony with that media law following its endorsement. As the law will include prescriptions on the topic of creation of press council, he said, the ministry will establish original Press Council first as a foundation to smooth the path when the law has come into existence. After the press council shaped, all kinds of publications will be allowed to publish under check-after-publish system and the press council will be responsible for all of such processes, Kyaw Hsan said.
Although Burma has switched from military to civilian government, released journalists among hundreds of political prisoners, and promised more reforms, its vast censorship structure remains in place.
All privately run news publications in Burma are forced to publish weekly rather than daily due to oppressive prepublication censorship requirements. The government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) censors news that could reflect poorly on the military or the government it backs, and imposes a complete blackout on reporting of the armed conflict with ethnic Kachin rebels in the remote north. In addition, the government dominates radio and television with a steady stream of propaganda.
According to hearsay news, a new media law will be presented to parliament in its imminent session. However, editors and journalists are concerned about a lot of other challenging laws in place, including criminal defamation laws.
Even though the government says it has been working hard to introduce a media law and the press council, it does not say to revoke the media unfriendly laws, i.e. The Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act (1933), Printers and Publishers Registration Law (1962), The Television and Video Act (1995), The Motion Picture Law (1996) , The Computer Science Development Law (1996), Internet Law (2000, Wide Area Network Establishment and Service Providing order No. 3/2002, Electronic Transactions Law (2004).
Burma remains among the 10 most censored nations in the world regardless of the transform from a military regime to a quasi-civilian government, according to the Committee to Protect Journalist, which released their latest report in first week of May.