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Burma’s lower house of parliament approved the controversial Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill on Thursday to the dismay of members of the interim press council who claim the bill still contains measures that will hinder the fourth estate.
According to lower house MP Ye Htun, legislators made several amendments to the draft law before it was passed. Such changes included revising a clause that would have provided “registration officials” with the authority to enforce printing and publishing regulations and deem publications “illegal”.
“Now it allows the minister or an official appointed by the minister to declare a publication illegal if it is investigated and found violating any condition of article-7 (of the law) and in response, the publisher or owner of the enterprise can appeal at regional courts,” said Ye Htun.
“So according to the [amendment], the decision made by the minister or an official appointed by the minister will no longer be final.”
According to article-7 of the draft law, media outlets would not be allowed to publish material containing nudity or statements that are “against and violate the provisions of the constitution and other legislation”.
Interim press council member Zaw Thet Htwe said the press body plans to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow in response to the Lower House’s approval of the bill.
“During negotiations with the Ministry of Information, we pointed out clauses [that would limit press freedom] and we learnt that those clauses were still included in the draft law that was approved by the lower house today,” said Zaw Thet Htwe.
“This means that the negotiations and discussions we had with the [ministry] were fruitless and this can hurt the cooperation between the press council and the Ministry of Information in the future. So we are going to talk with the Press Council members about how to deal with this.”
The law draft, including the Lower House’s amendments, will now be passed on to Upper House for approval. If both bodies sign off on the bill, then the Union Parliament has the power to sign the piece of legislation into law.
Once passed, the legislation will replace the draconian 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act that was commonly utilised by the country’s former military rulers to silence dissent and exert control over the fourth estate.
After Ministry of Information submitted the draft law in February, journalists and watchdog agencies unleashed heavy criticism on the bill for containing provisions that pushed authoritarian measures that would allow for the continuation of censorship.