Burma’s Ministry of Information on Wednesday withdrew its proposed Public Service Media Bill from parliament.
Information Minister Ye Htut said that the bill was “insufficient”, and announced the withdrawal of Public Service Media Bill in an address to the legislative assembly on 18 March, the first time that a bill has ever been withdrawn from parliament after being proposed and discussed.
A draft Television and Broadcasting Bill, which would provide the regulatory framework for public service media institutions, is currently due for discussion in the parliamentary lower house after being approved by the upper house in October of last year.
Phyo Min Thein, a National League for Democracy MP from Rangoon’s Hlegu Township constituency, has said that he believes the ministry decided to withdraw the bill due to wide spread public criticism.
“The bill was not only insufficient but, when it was subject to public scrutiny, attracted a lot of criticism from media organisations and experts for its many shortcomings, and also for creating a divide between state-run and privately owned newspapers. I believe that they realised it needed to be reviewed,” said Phyo Min Thein.
However, in comments online, MP Ye Tun of Shan State’s Hsipaw Township said that retracting the bill will allow the government to continue its use of repressive policies and regulations to control the media indefinitely.
Drafted by the Ministry of Information, the Public Service Media Bill was first submitted to parliament in March 2014. Its original intent was to ensure that independent news organisations receive public funding, but the bill became the focus of heavy criticism when it was found that state broadcasters and publications, such as the Mirror and the New Light of Myanmar – widely acknowledged as government mouthpieces – would be classed as “public service” outlets.
This raised concerns within Burma’s community of journalists and representatives from the Interim Press Council (IPC), who say that defining state-run media as public service is troubling.
Zaw Thet Htwe, an editor and IPC member, last year told DVB: “The bill transforms state-run newspapers and broadcasting channels into a public service media, which we find inappropriate.
“We also pointed out there is only public broadcasting service in other countries, but no such thing as public service newspapers, so this would be a waste of public funding to run the newspaper,” he said.
Critics have argued that the bill is too vague, and that authorities have been secretive about how it will be implemented. Many were worried that the allocation of state budget to the media would make it difficult for private newspapers to compete.
The past twelve months have been a dark period for Burma’s press, despite national reforms in other areas. Arrests of journalists have continued into 2015, with reporters detained during this month’s student protests. In October of last year, Burmese freelance journalist Par Gyi was killed in murky circumstances while in custody of government forces.