Media law to protect rights of journalists, says ministry

By Myo Lwin
Volume 31, No. 612
January 30 - February 5, 2012

A MUCH-ANTICIPATED media law has moved one step closer to promulgation, with the Ministry of Information forwarding a draft of the law to the Attorney General’s Office for review, an official said last week.

When introduced, the law will herald the most significant change to the publishing industry in six decades, replacing the highly restrictive Printers and Publishers Registration Law 1962.

However, in a surprise move the ministry has decided the law will apply only to print publications and not broadcast or online media.

Deputy director general of the Ministry of Information’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, U Tint Swe, told reporters last week the Attorney General’s Office was reviewing the wording of the draft.

He said it would protect the rights of journalists and suitable sections had been taken from similar laws in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam, without mentioning what kind of rights he was referring to.

“We have named it the ‘Printing Presses and Publications Law’ and it has nine chapters, including the rights and ethics of journalists and the registration [process] for publishers,” the deputy director general said at a meeting with about 50 publishers and editors on January 25.

“We have taken certain rights for journalists from the Cambodian media law, some from Indonesia and Vietnam as well. I am sure you will be happy when it comes out, even though I wouldn’t call it perfect.”

U Tint Swe said the draft still needed to be approved by the hluttaw, where representatives were likely to debate and amend the bill.

“In the meantime, we have only the Printers and Publishers Registration Law 1962 … [but] I am not returning back to restrictions that we practised in the past,” he said.

Following the military coup of 1962, the Ministry of Information put in place tight regulations to constrain freedom of the press that required all material to be submitted for “scrutinisation” before going to print.

However, censorship has relaxed significantly over the past 18 months and in June 2011 the ministry began allowing almost 200 weekly and monthly publications – those focusing on fashion, lifestyle, health and sports – to self-censor their content.

Another 54 publications, focusing on business and crime, shifted to self-censorship in early December.

U Tint Swe said that a number of publications had “gone further than they should” and PSRD had had to hand out a number of warnings the previous week, hinting that it had been for coverage of events in Kachin State.

He urged cooperation from all industry stakeholders to ensure the development of the media sector – and progress on important national issues – was not stymied by irresponsible reporting.

“Our intention is that all journals should have equal rights concerning articles and your collaboration is required,” he said.

“I have said the government press censorship should not exist any more … and we don’t want the peace process to veer off course because of an erroneous news item that might be published without our knowledge.

“To be honest, I am not even in a position to decide [whether to allow] some sensitive stories relating to peace negotiations with national groups, among which the Kachin Independence Organisation is the most serious,” said U Tint Swe.

There are more than 50 weekly news journals publishing regularly in Myanmar that still go through the system of pre-publication censorship.