How Much Freedom Does Burmese Media Enjoy?
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How Much Freedom Does Burmese Media Enjoy?

By AUNG ZAW Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Since coming into power, President Thein Sein has mentioned the importance of the fourth pillar in society and revealed that both he and his office follow media reports in and outside of Burma.

Thein Sein is known to be a bookworm who follows the news closely. Immediately after his speech in Parliament last week to mark the one-year anniversary of taking power, aides and senior officials at his office phoned several editors to ask their opinion.

During my recent trip to Burma, I was told that the president is keen to see press freedom blossom. I still have some reservations, however.

Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

What I gather is that he has also ordered the restoration of the press council in Burma. In the past, the press council was comprised of respected and powerful media moguls and editors. Re-creating this council will stir things up amongst renowned tycoons due to personal jealousy, rivalry and self-centered egotism

Indeed, how much press freedom and independent media the former general will support remains questionable—editors in Rangoon are also perplexed by the relationship between the President's Office and Ministry of Information.

There is a deep suspicion that the pair do not see eye-to-eye in developing media in Burma, let alone allowing editors to have increased authority or even the final say. Sadly, the top down approach and close control mentality is still alive.

The fact is that some governments and representatives of donor countries have been bluffed on recent media developments in Burma and the censorship board remains very active.

However, officials recently said that censorship would be abolished when the new media law is introduced this year. Exciting indeed, but this remark does not really change skeptics into enlightened believers.

Deep-seated doubts linger as many in the sector share a feeling that the government will find a way to continue controlling the media. Burma still has several draconian security laws and a notorious Electronic Act that can arrest and detain anyone, including journalists, without due process.

In terms of press freedom, Burma is still ranked 169 out of 179 countries, according to an index by Reporters Without Borders published in January.

The Ministry of Information is now drafting a media law but controversy has surfaced, as the proposed legislation has not been presented to anyone. It seemed these officials have been working away in a closet!

At a media conference—the first in many years—held in Rangoon in January, Burma's censorship chief Tint Swe, head of the Department for Press Scrutiny and Registration, said that the drafted media law “will be submitted to the Attorney General’s Office for comments, then to the cabinet for approval and then to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [combined Houses of Parliament] for approval.”

He added during his presentation that the new legislation will be entitled the “Printing Press and Publication Law,” with 10 chapters including “Rights, Duties and Ethical Codes for Writers and Journalists” and “Penalties.” To the astonishment of many participants, he only presented the Table of Contents of the draft but no details of the law itself.

The current censorship board will be dissolved under the new media law with a replacement “Committee for Press Freedom and Raising Ethical Standards” taking its place.

“Successful media strategies are increasingly dependent on the management of [this new media] policy,” Tint Swe told the workshop.

What is alarming is that the draft law was adapted from the repressive Printers and Publishers Registration Act enacted in Burma after the 1962 military coup. Also, no one from either the independent or private media was invited to review or discuss the proposed legislation. Moreover, there is no guarantee that it will protect press freedom or security for journalists.

Hein Latt, the editor of Popular News Journal and a central committee member of the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association, told The Irrawaddy after attending the media conference: “I think the media law here will be more like in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. If so, press freedom would not change much although it may relax somewhat. We cannot expect much.

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Tom Tun Wrote:
Sounds like you don't understand the the rights o people and the one who are violating. In your example, if someone is disrespecting an organization or a particular society, that individual is responsible for his action. However, out of that fear for inappropriate press and punishing the whole society for their rights of freedom of expression is wrong. Society has no rights to silencing one individual if individual has has power to silencing society is wrong.

migalaba Wrote:
Irrawaddy, you have never mentioned about UNESCO is helping legal framework on media laws. Report its development of the news.

"Myanmar: UNESCO will offer technical advice on establishing regulatory and legal framework for the media that meets international standards and best practices, as requested by the government of Myanmar; a national seminar on “the role of media / freedom of expression and information in the democratic setting” will be held in the country on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, 2012."

mingalaba Wrote:
And also they see it as a glass of half-filled water. Others see it in half-empty.
Such as this

And yes... I'd like to see that "honest reporting". Some news agency report controversial news only in Burmese but not in English because they are bias. They do not dare to report such as like this news in English...

But I agree with you on this "the problem also lies in the skills of reporters and editors."

Venus Wrote:
Don't expect too high yet.We start from zero to flow against the old bloods.Can’t get100 % freedom overnight. Something is just better than nothing.After 2 or 3 round of next election,we might reach to this point.If we are too ambitious to get 100%, even what we get 5% in hand now can be lost forever. I don't believe 100 % media freedom can promise peace and stability. Have you seen the media freedom insulted Buddha surrounded by women in TV out of control? so be in middle path 50%, I can peacefully die.

Tom Tun Wrote:
Isn't it "Freedom Of Speech" a fundamental rights of Human being? Journalism must have freedom of speech and press without any scrutiniy. If there is any kind of restriction on freedom of speech as an individual or press organization, can we even say that we have full Human rights? Sensorship board is kneel jerk action against freedom of speech and covering the crime of the powerful government. There is nothing positive for the people provided by sensorship board.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
Not much. Because Aung Zaw and his lackeys keep censoring messages that counter treasonous assertions.
That simple.
State must regulate media because media is power without accountability.
Media is far more dangerous than an army to sovereignty of a nation.
Clip illegal power of the likes of Aung Zaw, lap dog of Western imperialism.
Just look how quickly he got rid of the article about Obama praising the Burmese regime!

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