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Govt to amend controversial publishing law

The Burmese government has pledged to amend the draconian publishing law that requires all publications to register with and submit copies to the censorship board, but will stop short of abolishing the legislation.

The 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, which has been used to silence dissent in the media for decades, will be updated to reflect democratic changes in the former pariah state, according to the government.

“The [Printers and Publishers Registration Law] will be amended for contemporary relevance,” Ye Tint from Burma’s Printing and Publishing Enterprise, a body in the Ministry of Information, told DVB. “In the meantime, the press council is drafting a media law.”

Earlier this week, Burma’s first sex education magazine was banned by the censorship board for publishing material deemed “near pornographic” under the 1962 law. A further six publications — Media One, The Farmer, Ad World, Myanandar, High Speed Car, New Blood and Aesthetics — were told they would be monitored for one month after publishing “irrelevant” content.

In August, the government formally ended five decades of pre-censorship in Burma, but warned that the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) would continue to monitor media output. Editors were told that although there would be “less restrictions” they would “need to be more careful and responsible”.

An interim press council, led by retired Supreme Court Judge Khin Maung Aye, was formed the following month with a mandate to promote media freedom. Press council member, Zaw Thet Htway, told DVB he is hopeful that Burma’s repressive media laws will gradually be abolished.

“The draft [media law] will be presented to the media later this month – after their feedback and legal experts’ opinion, a final, strong law will be presented to the parliament,” said Zaw Thet Htway. “We are optimistic that once the parliament approves the new law, all other oppressive media laws will gradually fade away.”

The country still upholds a number of draconian regulations, including the Electronics Act and criminal defamation laws, which could see journalists imprisoned for up to two years. In March, the Burmese Ministry of Mines filed a lawsuit against the Voice news journal for publishing allegations of corruption against the department.

On 1 April, the country will allow publication of daily newspapers for the first time in decades, but some analysts fear it will lead to an increase in self-censorship.

Burma ranks 169 out of 179 on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.

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