Press law to wait until next hluttaw session: govt

By Yadana Htun
Volume 31, No. 613
February 6 - 12, 2012

A DRAFT publishing law that the government says will end formal censorship is unlikely to be submitted for approval during the current session of parliament, The Myanmar Times has learned.

U Tint Swe, the deputy director general of the Ministry of Information’s Press Scrutinisation and Registration Department (PSRD), also confirmed to The Myanmar Times last week that the ministry’s version of the Printing Press and Publications Law was finished – but could be updated – and would only cover print media.

“The draft is only for print media and electronic media is not included. We sent it to the Attorney General’s Office in January to get legal advice,” U Tint Swe said on January 30 on the sidelines of a two-day workshop on “Media Development in Democratic Society” in Yangon.

While the ministry had planned to submit the draft bill during the current session of parliament, U Tint Swe said this looked increasingly unlikely. “This session is mainly focused on budgets and it probably won’t be possible to [submit the draft for approval] before it ends.”

He said the ministry could also update the law to address points raised at the January 30-31 workshop and also a “ministry-level workshop” planned for March, which will be held with support from international organisations including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“When we met with international organisations they asked whether the law has been finalised as it has been sent to the Attorney General’s Office already. It’s still a draft. We need to take into account the outcomes from the workshops and discuss [the draft] widely. And representatives in the parliament will also discuss it,” U Tint Swe said.

“But while we need to discuss the content and take advice from the workshops it is definite that the law will come out in 2012. After that there won’t be any more censorship.”

He said the law was drafted by PSRD officials and includes 11 chapters, including rights, duties and ethical codes for writers and journalists; principles to be observed by publications; committee for press freedom and raising ethical standards; registration of printers, publishers and distributors; and penalties.

Though the draft was adapted from the Law for Registration of Printing and Publishing 1962, U Tint Swe said the committee made “many changes”, adopting sections of media laws used in Asia as well as Western countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and Hungary.

“There are many changes [to the 1962 law] in the draft. We took the table of contents from the 1962 law but not the content. So while it includes regulations on registration [of publications] it is much more flexible. You don’t need to do many steps like in the past,” he said.

“For example, at the moment, you can publish a publication only when the ministry gives a licence. According to the draft, you can easily get a licence and anyone can get one.”

The chief of the VOA’s Burmese Service, U Than Lwin Htun, who participated in last week’s workshop, held at Inya Lake Hotel, said the law shouldn’t be used to restrict journalists.

“Some people say that the ... censorship board will be abolished but we will have to wait and see. A media law should protect journalists, not restrict them,” he said.