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Freedom House Encouraged by Nascent Press Freedom Reform in Burma

By Freedom House  •  August 20, 2012

Freedom House welcomes the announcement by the Burmese Government that it has ended pre-publication censorship and views it as another positive step in opening up the space for free expression. However, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board (PSRD) has not been dismantled and highly restrictive media restrictions still remain firmly in place.

Today, a Ministry of Information official announced that editors of news publications would no longer have to submit stories to the censorship board ahead of publication. This unprecedented reform eliminates a draconian provision that has been in place since the PSRD was established in 1964 by Burma’s then military regime. The new rules will impact a range of news and religious journals that have been heavily censored up to this point.  However, editors will still be held accountable for the content and required to adhere to sixteen guidelines. Some of these are loosely worded and prohibit reporting on issues deemed “sensitive” and would ban stories that “harm national security” or the “dignity of the state.”

“While this new policy is an important step in opening up space for Burmese citizens to express themselves freely, there is still a long way to go,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “Journalists will still have to operate within the confines of an elaborate state apparatus and abide by laws that currently negate any meaningful press freedom.”

Any publication that violates guidelines will be subject to a series of sanctions including being stripped of their license and publishers could also face lengthy prison sentences under Burma’s Penal Code. Moreover, laws including the 2004 Electronics Act as well as the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, both of which have been used to arrest, detain, and imprison scores of journalists and activists, remain in place. These will have to be abolished if genuine press freedom is to emerge in the country.

“This recent move is an encouraging sign but there is a very long road ahead toward a Burma that has any semblance of free expression,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of Freedom House’s Southeast Asia Program. “The specter of the last five decades of military rule still casts a long and strong shadow on journalists and activists, so we will need to wait and see what other reforms follow in the upcoming months.”

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