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Asian Correspondent: Burma begins media reform, warns journalists to obey the law

Burma begins media reform, warns journalists to obey the law (click to view article)

A paper-reading session on “form and content reform of State-owned newspapers” was organized by News and Periodicals Enterprise of the Ministry of Information in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar said Thursday. The Minister for Information and Culture  Kyaw Hsan delivered a speech at the opening session.

In his speech, Kyaw Hsan said the new government is committed to democracy based on the constitution. The Information Ministry has been working towards reform of the media sector in line with the constitution since 2008, when the constitution was ratified, the minister said.

The reforms started in 2011 and now private media has the right to publish, he said.

“Previously, the state media under the control of the ministry of information mainly informed the policies and stances, implementation and limited information of the government to the public. It barely published public-based news and information, wishes, feedback and arguments of the people,” Kyaw Hsan said.

“The paper-reading session is aimed at further reforming the State media, in other words, seeking ways and means to transform the form and content of State media to that of public service media.”

According to Kyaw Hsan, public media must be transformed to meet three objectives – to inform of the policies, stances and implementation of the government; to publish the opinions, wishes, aspirations and feedback of the people in response to the actions of the government and departments; and to make constructive criticism with regard to actions of the government and departments.

“In building the future democratic nation, the press, the Fourth Estate of the State must monitor the legislative, executive and judicial pillars in order that the very essence of democracy can be practiced correctly. In addition, it must inform and educate the people, the fifth pillar of the State. To accomplish these duties, the Fourth Estate must be proficient and genuine,” he emphasized.

The minister also added that after having freedom of expression, journalists must stick to journalistic codes of ethics, and existing laws. Freedom must be practiced with observance of the codes of ethics, rationality and awareness, he advised the journalists.

It is true that there have been some positive changes recently i.e. journals can publish Aung San Suu Kyi and her father’s pictures; some former restricted topics are now allowed; and some journals are allowed to publish prior to censorship.

However, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) and Burma’s Censorship Office are still powerful and active. Corruption, civil war, sectarian riots, government mismanagement and several political topics cannot be reported on.

Such reform does not represent a policy change. To initiate a real change in the media field, the government should totally get rid of the laws that suppress freedom of expression. However, the quasi-civilian government is reluctant to amend the laws such as the 1996 Television and Video Act, the 1996 Computer Science Development Act, the 2002 Wide Area Network Order and the 2004 Electronics Transactions Law. Journalists are under close scrutiny and often work undercover.

The chief editor of Snap Shot News Journal has been charged under Section 505 (b) (c) of the Penal Code at Pazundaung Township Court, as reported by the Weekly Eleven News Journal. The Snap Shot News Journal carried a news report titled “Who will take responsibility for the errant news reporting of State-owned newspapers or media?”

The most serious question is that the proposed draft media law, which will be discussed in July parliament sessions, merely focuses on the print media and therefore it is not enough. In the age of the Internet, it is necessary to amend the 1933 Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act, the 1996 Television and Video Act, the 1996 Computer Science Development Law, 2002 Wide Area Network Order and the 2004 Electronics Transactions Law that threaten the journalists as ever.

Unless the government abandons those oppressive laws, current reforms in media sector will be regarded as window dressing.