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Myanmar: Old habits die hard for the powerful
Publication Date : 07-08-2012
Censorship is alive and well in Myanmar despite all the enthusiasm surrounding the promises of reforms by Nay Pyi Daw's leaders that there would be no press censorship in the country from now on.
Unfortunately the truth inside Myanmar tells a different story. Local journalists have condemned the return of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), which has halted indefinitely the publication of two weeklies, The Voice and The Envoy. The publications allegedly violated the so-called 2011 Order No 44, a PSRD measure that prevents articles being published without prior approval.
Of course, freedom of expression is a still a contentious issue in Myanmar society. The ruling administration has a long history of gagging the media and restricting public expressions of free speech. Nay Pyi Daw obviously is not used to the type of scrutiny that the media in freer societies are able to apply.
If it is not careful, if such censorship continues unabated, Myanmar could be become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world. One can understand why the highest authorities there are not happy with the reporting on a cabinet reshuffle, which led to the ban on the two weeklies. In Myanmar politics, the naming of new ministers, especially in the Cabinet, is indicative of the makeup of the future administration.
In that sense, it is important that the media keep the public abreast of what is going on. News about Cabinet portfolios and matters of public interest such as malfeasance should, of course, make up the normal headlines, as they do in any open society.
If Myanmar wants to move forward on the road of reform and democratisation, the whole government apparatus had better get used to media insight on political activities and the reshuffling of politicians to new appointments. Otherwise the country could backslide on the progress made so far, which has been little short of a miracle.
If the publication ban continues, it will send the wrong signal to the international community - that things aren't really what they seem inside the country. This could have adverse effects on Myanmar's future plans and the intentions of others.
At the moment, due to the positive reform template, Western and Asian countries have rushed towards the once-isolated country. Lest we forgot, less than a year and half ago, Myanmar was still the subject of condemnation from the majority of UN members.
Myanmar should reconsider its decision to censor its media. The new media law, to be enacted later in the year, will become an important instrument as the country continues with its overall reforms. Therefore it must not be jeopardised.
International media organisations have been assisting their counterparts in Myanmar to ensure that the media law is modern and conducive to the country's effort to open up and promote freedom of expression. Already Nay Pyi Daw has surprised critics about its new level of openness. Without the recent ban on the two weeklies, media freedom in Myanmar was ranking higher than before, within the Asean context.
Nay Pyi Daw has to understand how the media work and it must begin to foster an appreciation of their role. Reports on day-to-day events are essential as the country progresses. Mistakes will be made and mischievous deeds will be reported. That should not be a reason to shut down media operations.
Media personnel inside the country do need further training because the political situation is new, and some sensitive issues must be handled with care, without the kind of propaganda we've seen in the past. Better media, of course, will help Myanmar on the road to reform.
There is no reason to ban publications that report fairly and provide opinion that matters.