A new unit ostensibly charged with protecting the interests of journalists and issuing guidelines for media practice has been formed by Burma’s draconoian censor board.
Media freedom in the Southeast Asian pariah is amongst the world’s lowest – all material in the various domestic news journals and magazines in circulation has to be vetted by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) prior to publication.
The PSRD’s role in establishing the new body, the Committee for Professional Conduct (CPC), has thus worried interested parties. It was the PSRD that last year forced newspapers to report that the pentalty for calling for a boycott of the 7 November elections was 5 to 30 years’ imprisonment.
”We really want the sort of committe which can protect and promote us,” said one Rangoon-based journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity. ”But we are disappointed because the committe is established by the PSRD.”
The PRSD has however said that it will not interfere with the workings of the 25-strong CPC, which includes 15 journal editors and two members of the censor board. Some, however, are not so sure.
”We hoped that the CPC would be independent from the PSRD and that censorship may also be loosened,” said another journal editor. ”It is now obvious that everything we had thought is totally wrong. The PSRD will be taking a leadership role in the CPC, and it is questionable if free press will emerge in the near future, despite a new government being formed.”
Another journalist likened the new body to the elections last year, which have been shrouded in controversy.
”Some politicians said the election was a big chance and that they will fight for changes in the parliament,” said a veteran Rangoon journalist. ”Some say they will boycott it because the election will not bring any changes. Indeed, we do need such a committe but it should not be like this.”
Burma was recently ranked as the world’s fourth biggest jail for journalists by the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). It also came 171 out of 175 countries in Reporters sans frontieres’ Press Freedom Index last year.