By Ahunt Phone Myat
More than half of Burma’s journals and magazines will no longer be forced to go via the country’s draconian censor board prior to publication, according to a new ruling that however maintains a tight clamp on political reporting.
Nearly 200 of Burma’s 350-odd journals and magazines will be subject to the easing of stringent laws surrounding publication, which is expected to take effect from the beginning of April when the new government is officially sworn in.
But only publications focusing on entertainment, general knowledge, sport, aesthetic, health, children’s literature, supernatural and technology will be allowed to bypass the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), which resides over some of the world’s harshest media laws. Anything deemed politically sensitive by the board – and the criteria surrounding that is highly arbitrary – will continue to be cut.
It bears resemblance to the system that was in place prior to the 1962 military coup, said prominent magazine editor, Hein Latt. Then, journalists weren’t forced to submit material to the censor board, but could still be punished if their writing angered the government.
He said that with the new ruling, “writers will have to take responsibility for what they write” – a case of self-censoring to avoid legal action and possible imprisonment.
More than 20 Burmese journalists are currently behind bars, some serving sentences of up to 27 years. The military-ruled nation consistently ranks at the tail-end of international press freedom indexes
Critics of the ruling junta have poured doubt over its claim that Burma is transitioning to civilian rule and would likely attack this ruling as merely a cosmetic change – given the strict rules that still surround so-called sensitive topics – aimed at appeasing condemnation of its media freedom record.
Ross Dunkley, the detained former editor of the Myanmar Times, the only newspaper in Burma with foreign funding, has said in the past that some 20 percent of its articles submitted to the censor board are rejected,
Yesterday the regime launched The Myawaddy, bringing to four the number of daily newspaper published in the country. Running the newspaper will be the Directorate of Public Relations and Psychological Warfare, which comes under the responsibility of military intelligence.
Analysts said the move was likely aimed at countering the flow of independent media, particularly social networking, that has spread as more Burmese log on to the internet.