ISSN 2330-717X

Will Burma’s Press Be Free After New Media Reform Bill?

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By Zin Linn

The third regular session of the first Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) and the third regular session of first Amyotha Hluttaw (Upper House) opened at the Pyithu Hluttaw Building in Nay-Pyi-Taw, Thursday. President of Myanmar (Burma) Thein Sein sent a message to the Speakers of the Lower and the Upper Parliaments, the New Light of Myanmar said Friday.

The President says in his message, “In successfully reforming the all sectors of the nation for the sake of the people and the nation, we had to promulgate 15 new laws and make amendments and supplements.”

The junta-sponsored existing parliament allows 330 civilian seats in the 440-member House of Representatives (Lower House). Under the 2008 Constitution, the remaining 110 seats are filled with appointed military officers. In the 224-seat House of Nationalities (Upper House), 168 are elected and 56 are appointed by the boss of the armed forces. Remarkably, 77 percent of the parliamentary seats have been seized by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the 2010 November polls which were distinguished for vote-rigging prescription.

When the new parliament first started opening on January 31 in 2011, tight security had been set up around the parliament building as part of measures for a grand scale celebration. At that time, the area around the Naypyitaw was under surveillance and army units patrolling day and night.

There were even restrictions on the members of parliament, according to invitations delivered to Members of Parliament calling them for the first parliament sessions. The new MPs were not allowed to carry cameras, computers, mobile phones, radios, voice recorders, electronic gadgets, handbags and miscellaneous items.

During that first parliamentary session, even no visitors were allowed into the parliamentary compound. Uninvited guests might risk a prison term under rules made clear to lawmakers; whereas the authorized officials said even senior military officers were not permitted to go through without special permission.

For the period of that first parliamentary session, 18 reporters from domestic and foreign news agencies arrived in Naypyidaw, according to the Mizzima News. But, the journalists did not received permission from the Information Ministry to cover the historic first sessions which assembled for the first time in 22 years on January 31, 2011.

Additionally, reporters were not allowed to take photographs near the Parliament building. Only four reporters from state-run Myanmar Radio and Myawaddy TV were given permission to cover the Parliament. They even were not allowed to enter the Parliament and had to shoot video from a room surrounded by glass, Mizzima said.

One remarkable thing is that on this latest third regular assembly of the first parliament sessions, the mobile phones were allowed to use in the parliament building, but agree holding devices without disturbance to the parliament discussion, the Eleven Media Group (EMG) news said Friday.

Moreover, not only domestic correspondents but also foreign reporters have been allowed to cover the news on the parliament discussions during this House Sessions. Media personnel were placed at the top floor above the parliament assembly hall. They were also allowed carrying cameras, video-cameras, computers, voice recorders and other necessary papers.

Apart from 26 domestic reporters, there are altogether eleven reporters from foreign news agencies, including Mr. Jason Szep (Southeast Asia Bureau Chief) from Reuters News of Britain, Mr.Toru Kitamura from Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS), Mr.Tetsuo Okabe from Ji Ji News Agency Japan, Mr. Yuzo Yamashita from Nippon Television Network (NTV) and Ms.Lin Xi from China Central Television (CCTV), according to EMG news.

Since the new President Thein Sein government came to power in March 2011 after controversial 2010 November elections, Burma’s authorities have made a minor moderation of rigid censorship rules for some publications, while keeping a tight grip on news journals.

In an interview by telephone on Wednesday, Tint Swe, director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD) repeatedly told Radio Free Asia (Burmese Service) claiming freedom of expression in Burma will be better after the new Press Law, which is still in the process of being endorsed in the parliament.

PSRD’s director said that the press law had already been drafted by Burma’s Ministry of Information and sent to the Attorney General’s office for approval. After adopting the media reform bill, the role of Press Scrutiny and Registration Department will be finished, Tint Swe told RFA.

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Asian Correspondent

Asian Correspondent is an English-language liberal news, blogs and commentary online newspaper serving all of the Asia-Pacific region. The website covers asian business, politics, technology, the environment, education, new media and Asia society issues.

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