Myanmar moves closer to more press freedom

Sept. 12, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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YANGON, Myanmar, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Myanmar's Information Minister Aung Kyi said the government wants to work with the country's journalists to establish new media freedom laws.

Aung Kyi, former labor minister and government liaison to pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, has been meeting with journalists in Yangon to discuss media issues, the Irrawaddy news website said.

The move comes after the government did away last month with the requirement of publications to submit their copy to a government censor before publishing them.

However, publishers must submit articles to the Information Ministry's Press Scrutiny and Registration Department after publication to determine if publishing laws have been broken.

Aung Kyi said the Information Ministry will put together a first draft and consult with Myanmar's journalist community before deciding on a version to be presented to Parliament.

He also said he wanted to work through the Myanmar Core Press Council that the government set up last month as its official media liaison and watchdog, the Irrawaddy report said.

"We now feel a sense of freedom," MCPC member Ko Ko told the Irrawaddy, run by expatriate Myanmar journalists operating in Thailand. "We must start working together to write a new law and confine the 1962 law to history."

Zaw Thet Htwe, a spokesman for the independent Committee for Freedom of the Press, said "we will need to wait and see to what extent our ideas are included."

Myint Kyaw, general secretary for the Myanmar Journalist Network, said the MJN "hopes that a new, good, comprehensive law will come out of this."

But the MCPC remains a controversial organization mainly because of its powers.

The main task of the 20-member council, led by a retired Supreme Court Judge, is to protect press freedoms and advise on new media laws but also ensure that journalists and publications don't overstep their freedoms, a report by The Asian Correspondent news website said.

The MCPC will "supervise the expressions of members of the press such that their expressions are not detrimental to the interest of the people, the dignity of the state and national sovereignty," a commentary by Zin Linn in The Asian Correspondent said.

Just how the MCPC behaves will determine its effectiveness in moving Myanmar towards more press freedom, said Zin, a former Myanmar editor who fled the military regime in 2001 and is vice president of the Burma (Myanmar) Media Association which is affiliated with the Reporters Sans Frontiers.

A potential problem with the MCPC is its remit to scrutinize imported periodicals and publications to confirm that they are in conformity with national interests, a statement from the privately owned Eleven Media Group said.

The danger is the MCPC will have a veto on publications and in effect the ability ban freedom of speech, the EMG said.

Also, MCPC members are former core executives of the junta-backed Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association, who are pro-government and have business interests in the media sector. Appointing them as press council members constitutes a conflict of interest, EMG said.

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