Burma prepares to ease censorship

An amendment to Burma’s notoriously strict media laws that will now allow the majority of domestic publications to bypass the censor board will come into force tomorrow.

Officials from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) yesterday met in Rangoon to finalise the plans, which will see greater freedom for 178 titles, although around 150 remain subject to the censor board. The publications now free to head straight to the newsstands include children’s literature, sports and fine art, while those that broach political topics are not included.

But despite the apparent relaxation, the media environment remains tricky to navigate: magazines that violate laws on what can and cannot be published are required to deposit five million kyat ($US6,600) with the PSRD, and every infringement thereon will result in a fine being removed from that sum.

Myat Khine, editor of the Snapshot News Journal, told DVB that it would force editors to “be clever” about what they can publish, although life may become more difficult.

“What if the publisher denies responsibility for a problem, fearing that his or her license would be revoked?” she said, adding that “big media groups should have legal advisors” to help review material before it goes public.

A twelve-point set of regulations have been laid down by the PSRD that outlines the rules for publishers and editors. Included in this is a warning not to challenge Burma’s “three national causes”, namely “non-disintegration of the Union”, “non-disintegration of national solidarity” and “perpetuation of sovereignty”.

Journalists are also barred from attacking the 2008 constitution or exposing government secrets. Breaches of these rules will result in fines, although it is not clear whether the traditional practice of jailing editors who flout these laws will continue.

The editor of an art-based magazine that asked to remain anonymous echoed Myat Khine’s call for legal advisors for publications.

“Now we have to be more careful as we are to take own responsibility on material we publish – before we just needed to apologise and sign agreements if something went wrong, but now we will face with the law.

He added that restrictions on “publishing fleshy images that are against social values” remained in place.

Burma’s is considered one of the world’s strictest media environments. The Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked it 171 out of 175 countries on its latest Press Freedom Index. More than 25 media workers are in jail, including 17 video journalists for DVB.

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