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Myanmar Parliament Passes Dual Media Laws

By International Federation of Journalists  •  March 17, 2014

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has welcomed the passing of the country’s first press laws, but has also described elements of the two new laws as unnecessarily controlling. The IFJ also calls on the Thein Sein government to continue its dialogue with journalists if it is determined to develop a free and robust media in Myanmar.

The dual laws passed through Myanmar’s Assembly of the Union on March 4 after significant delays and deliberation that saw several redrafts of the legislation. They will be signed into law soon by President Thein Sein.

“These new laws effectively replace the draconian Printers and Publishers Registration Law of 1962. Implementing such a dramatic change for Myanmar’s media environment is a victory in itself. We commend the hard work and perseverance of Myanmar’s journalists over recent years to ensure media freedoms are protected and respected as part of the ongoing dialogue now happening between the Thein Sein government and the country’s media,” the IFJ said.

The Media Bill was submitted by the Myanmar Press Council in consultation with journalist and media organisations and outlines the rights and obligations of the country’s media and the running of press enterprises.

Sadly, the second of the bills the Printer’s and Publishers Registration Bill was drafted by the Ministry of Information without consultation with journalists.

The Ministry of Information’s bill includes sanctions for undermining security or disturbing tranquillity, with publications open to fines and also suspension. It also requires all media enterprises to register with the government or risk fines, suggesting that power of censorship still lies with the country’s authorities.

The Media Law sets out a code and establishes a complaints system. Breaches of rules can lead to fines for individuals and the legislation also includes criminal measures for ‘incitement to hatred’.
The Ministry of Information is also in the process of writing additional draft laws for the media, including regulations for broadcasting, film, and the use of libraries.

“This has been a journey of determination by Burmese journalists to ensure media rights and freedoms are respected and we congratulate them and the Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA) for being an active voice during that process,” the IFJ said. “But we strongly press that any further laws be created with full consultation with the media and without unnecessary restrictions and controls that would impede the objectives of freedom of expression.”

The IFJ has previously welcomed the government’s efforts in creating a freer media environment for Myanmar’s media. But it raised concerns over the actions of authorities in recent months.

“In this evolving media landscape the pressures on journalists are also changing,” the IFJ said. “With the censorship board now gone, we have witnessed rise in defamation actions against journalists and the fear is that journalists may turn to self-censorship if they feel they are not adequately protected.”

In early January, journalists rallied against the arrest and three-month jail sentence of Eleven Media Group reporter Khine Khine Aye Cho who was charged with defamation, trespass and use of abusive language – offenses usually punishable by a fine. It was reported to be the largest public gathering in Yangon since the Saffron Revolution of 2007.

Across January 31, February 1 and February 2 authorities arrested five Unity Weekly News journalists including the newspaper’s CEO, U Tin San. The arrests stem from a front page report alleging that chemical weapons were being manufactured at a facility in Pauk township, in Myanmar’s Magway region, under the orders of former military junta leader Than Shwe. The journalists were charged with violating the 1923 Burma State Secrets Act.

For further information contact:
IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0950
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries
Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

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This post is in: Press Release

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