Journalists in Burma call for relaxation of censorship

On press freedom day media workers in Burma have urged the new government led by former general Thein Sein to relax the censorship laws imposed by the previous military junta [SPDC].

Journalists were calling on the new government to abolish the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law and other censorship regulations laid down by the SPDC.

Ko Ko, secretary of Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association and chairperson of the recently formed Committee for Professional Conduct said: “Flourishing of the fourth pillar [journalism] is a necessary feature of a democratic system and we believe that the government including President Thein Sein, if looking to bring about a democratic system, would understand this.”

“We request [the government] to make this happen in practice.”

Veteran journalist Kyaw Yin Myint also petitioned the government for media freedom, pointing out that it would be a “real benefit” for the people.

“There should be a freedom to write something that poses no harm or threat to the people, the society or the government,” said Kyaw Yin Myint.

“I think by allowing it, there will be more positive outcomes than negative ones. The faster that freedom is granted, the better it will be for society.”

Ko Ko said although the main responsibility to do so lies with Information Ministry, other government departments need to change their habit of hostility towards the media.

“It would be hard to change a habit that has survived for so many years – it will take time,” he added.

“There should not only be a change of policy, but also a change of mind set for the people especially those in government departments.”

A news journal editor, under condition of anonymity, said there should be an appointment of clear procedures and regulations by the government.

“They should describe precisely what we are not allowed to write and also provide a reason when an item is rejected [by the censor board],” said the editor.

Burma’s legal system has been extremely vague so that not only is press freedom curtailed through pre-submitting copy but fear of irritating those in power is ubiquitous, with the government’s overarching control over the legal system used to detain or harass the journalist, with little or no recourse to a fair trial.

“Also, we should be allowed to question their scrutinising. By doing these, there will be more transparency to work,” added the editor.

The government recently announced that certain genres of publications would not be obliged to pre submit copy before publication, these include sports, children’s and supernatural. Conspicuous by its absence however, was political publications which will still need to be pre-submitted to the censor board. Typifying the perpetuation of censorship has been a ban on reporting on the debates or occurrences inside parliament, much to the ire of the few elected representatives in the various houses.

Whilst despite Thein Sein’s assertion that the media needed to be “respected” there has been little evidence that the harassment of journalists is ceasing, or that those journalists in jail will be released.

It was recently reported that a former army captain is awaiting trial under the electronics act, for mere possession of a document pertaining to the controversial Burmese topic of national reconciliation.

Burma is regularly ranked as one of the most draconian media environments on the planet with French media group, Reporters Sans Frontieres ranking Burma 171 out of 175 nations last year.

DVB has marked press freedom day by launching a campaign to free its 17 video journalists currently in jail.

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