Myanmar media push for more press freedom

Aug. 21, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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YANGON, Myanmar, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Myanmar's journalists are demanding more press freedom despite the end this week of the country's 50-year-long practice of censoring publications before they go to print.

Myanmar's Ministry of Information announced the move to end immediately the need for publishers to get prior approval from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department.

However, publishers still must submit articles to the PSRD to determine if publishing laws have been broken.

"It's a real improvement, but the 2004 Electronics Act, as well as the draconian 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, should also be abolished in order for the fourth estate to enjoy full press freedom," Zaw Thet Htwe, spokesman of the Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Irrawaddy news Web site, run by expatriate Myanmar journalists operating in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Zaw Thet Htwe also said the CFP, which was formed last month to call for an end to censorship, planned protests this week to demand more media freedom.

Thiha Saw, the editor of Open News Journal and Myanma Danna magazine, told Irrawaddy that some subjects including corruption -- something of which many of the country's top leaders have been accused -- will remain extremely sensitive for the government. Post-publication scrutiny is the PSRD's way of letting editors know the government is watching them.

Incurring the government's wrath could mean the withdrawal of a publication's license to print, a permit mandated under the Printers and Publishers Registration Act.

There also remains a myriad of regulations, orders and directives that have been imposed over the five decades of military rule, he said.

The head of the BBC's Myanmar Service, Tin Htar Shwe, said journalists are cautiously optimistic about the reforms, even though there remains many regulations under which journalists can be punished for writing material that angers or offends the government.

Tint Swe, head of the PSRD, said the move is a step in direction for allowing more private newspapers to publish.

More information on proposed media freedom will be available when the government submits a draft law to Parliament for approval, Tint Swe said.

Myanmar's latest freedoms don't include films, a report by the Mizzima news Web site, run by Myanmar expatriates in New Delhi, said.

The Mizzima report said journalists largely welcomed the dumping of pre-publication censorship -- applied to everything from newspapers to song lyrics, fiction, poems and even fairy tales.

It was one of the repressive methods of control used by the military junta before it handed over to an elected Parliament last year.

The foreign media in Myanmar remain under tight control, the Mizzima report said. Along with domestic reporters, they aren't allowed to travel freely in the country's ethnic regions.

Ko Ko Hlaing, general secretary of the union Myanmar Journalists Association -- officially sanctioned by the government -- said that media personnel must be more accountable for their articles under the new policy.

"There will be accountability, along with freedom of the press," Ko Ko told Mizzima.

"Under the freedom of press, if a story is written indiscriminately (not factually), there will be many problems," including lawsuits.

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