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Myanmar journos welcome easing of media censorship

Publication Date : 21-08-2012

 

Local journalists in Myanmar have widely welcomed the abolition of media censorship in a country that has barely emerged from four decades of military rule.

Still, there are reservations that the country's law regulating the media, written by a military regime in 1962, remains in place.

A new law due to be submitted to the current session of Parliament will hold the real key to the degree of media freedom in Myanmar, editor-in-chief of the Open News Journal Thiha Saw said on the phone from Yangon.

Media reports yesterday quoted Tint Swe, head of the government's Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD), as saying: "From now on, local publications do not need to send their stories to the censorship board."

Until yesterday, local publishers and editors had to submit content to the censorship board ahead of publication. In effect, however, the atmosphere had already relaxed considerably under reformist President Thein Sein, and reporting as well as media proliferated across print, TV and the Internet.

"This has been in the works for some time, and there were doubters," said Dr Khin Zaw Win, a Yangon-based political analyst.

This was probably part of the second wave of reforms promised by the President in a television address in June, he said.

U Thiha Saw said: "It is welcome that we do not have to deal with this every day. But it does not mean we have total media freedom."

Editors still have to send 30 copies of their publication to the PSRD for it to determine if their content violated any laws. And it remains to be seen how much the proposed new media law would be based on the 1962 Act.

Meanwhile, an interim Press Council comprising journalists, a former supreme court judge and academics has been set up by the government. It acts as an ethics watchdog and a dispute settler.

The announcement came as journalists were preparing to protest at Yangon's City Hall to demand that the government follow through on a pledge given in January to loosen media restrictions.

The media has been involved in some controversy in recent months as it has tested the limits under the more liberal government. Two journals had their printing licences suspended for a fortnight for publishing articles without the approval of the censors. A weekly which reported on corruption in a government department is being sued. One paper was shut down after it published reports seen as inflammatory during the sectarian violence in Rakhine state in June.

"Everyone can now heave a sigh of relief," said Khin Zaw Win. "But the next step should be sound, ethical and responsible journalism."

Meanwhile in Bangkok yesterday, Stephen Groff, a vice president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), speaking at the launch of a report on Myanmar's economy, said: "We were quite impressed by the strong commitment by the government to this reform programme, and a powerful sense of optimism - or a marked lack of cynicism - on the part of business leaders and non-governmental organisations."

Myanmar's gross domestic product could expand at 7 per cent to 8 per cent annually and per capita income could triple by 2030 if the country could implement remaining reforms. But there are still substantial impediments that need to be overcome in education and health care, infrastructure, and the banking and financial services sector.

The key to stability would be equitable growth with minimal impact on the environment, said the report, "Myanmar in Transition: Opportunities and Challenges". The ADB noted that Myanmar was widely underdeveloped, with poverty levels, especially in conflict-plagued ethnic areas, still severe.

"Regional disparities are really stark," said Groff. "If you look at poverty incidence nationally, it is 26 per cent. But the differences are huge. In Chin state, it is 70 per cent."

He added: "On average, only three in four in primary school proceed to secondary school. But in rural areas, it is one in four."

 

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