Burma's fourth estate meet in Rangoon

The heavyweight players in Burma’s press arena were in Rangoon on Thursday for a conference on media development. Ye Htut, recently promoted to the position of information minister, opened day one of the UNESCO-sponsored event.

The event has been held yearly since 2012, when President Thein Sein began a programme of media reform by relaxing pre-publication censorship laws.

The information minister emphasised the importance of media freedom during Burma’s democratisation.

“As we already know, media reform is the most important process in President U Thein Sein’s reform.To implement the reform process we didn’t have enough experience of the press role in a democracy.”

The Interim Press Council was created by presidential decree in 2012, creating a singular body to mediate the often-malign relationship between Burma’s government and fourth estate. Council members Ko Ko and Myint Kyaw were among the council representatives present on Thursday to discuss ethics and transparency in journalism.

The involvement of former “exile” media organisations such as Mizzima and the Democratic Voice of Burma pointed to advances in press freedom in Burma since 2012. However, the conference comes almost exactly two months after five journalists were sentenced to ten years with hard labour for their work.

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The journalists, from Rangoon-based Unity Weekly journal, published a report in January alleging the existence of a secret chemical weapons factory.

Eleven Media’s Ma Khine and DVB’s Zaw Pe also served prison terms this year, indicating what some call a backslide in media freedom in Burma.

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