MWJA plans press council as censorship eases
Volume 31, No. 609
January 9 - 15, 2012
THE Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association plans to establish a national press council this year, a senior member said last week.
Vice president U Ko Ko Hlaing, who is also a presidential adviser for political affairs, told The Myanmar Times the association had been studying how the press was regulated in neighboring countries to guide the formation of the press council.
“We’ve been learning how press councils in other countries operate but there are more steps we need to take first to establish a press council here,” such as the removal of pre-publication censorship and improving the standards of the country’s journalists, he said.
The proposal has apparently got the green light from the Ministry of Information, after association members discussed it with Union Minister U Kyaw Hsan in mid-December.
U Ko Ko Hlaing said the council would be needed as the role of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, which has censored Myanmar publications for decades, gradually diminished.
“We still have to confirm who will run this council and what the council’s responsibilities will be,” he said.
But he said the press council would have a substantially different function to the censorship board.
“By press council we mean a body that could protect writers’ and journalists’ right to freedom of expression. We’re now discussing how to establish such a body within our country’s current context,” U Ko Ko Hlaing said.
He said it would also work to improve the skills of the country’s journalists, including their knowledge of legal and ethical issues.
U Ko Ko Hlaing said press councils in others countries that had been studied usually comprised retired judges and academics.
“Sometimes people from civil society organisations are also members,” he said.
Author and consulting editor of weekly journal Pyithu Khit (The People’s Age), Maung Wuntha, said that while the press council was a good idea, it should comprise people who were “fair and independent … [and] not under the influence of any internal or external organisation”.
Maung Wuntha said the press council would be needed after a proposed media law was promulgated later this year because the law was likely to result in a return of private daily newspapers.
“If the government permits publication of private daily newspapers we will soon need a press council – it should be established even before the middle of the year,” he said.
He said the Burma Press Council and Burma Journalists Association had been active until the early 1960s, while there had also been an association for publishers.
“At the moment, there is a printers and publishers association here too but I don’t know whether it will be reorganised into a press council or the press council will be formed to include private-sector journalists,” he said.
Author U Ko Ko (Ko Tekkatho) agreed a press council was needed. “They can ensure journalists abide by the journalism ethics and work within both the ethical and legal boundaries. We need more practice to enjoy more media freedom,” he said.
U Kyaw Thu, a fellow at the Oxford-based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, said that greater press freedom often resulted in more aggressive journalism.
He said the Press Complaint Committee in United Kingdom received more than 1000 complaint letters from readers each year.
“The complaint committee is able to solve some problems but not all,” he said. “If Myanmar has private newspapers there will be a lot of competition for news and I expect we will need a committee like this to solve the problems that arise.”