RANGOON — Burmese journalists said they will gather in Rangoon on Saturday to plan a large campaign advocating for greater media freedom and protection of journalists, after Burma’s government imprisoned a number of reporters in recent months.
Toe Zaw Latt, bureau chief of Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), is one of the organizers of the meeting and he told The Irrawaddy that the rising threat to local journalists needs to be countered by the media industry.
“Our reporter Zaw Pe has been sentenced to one year in prison and other local journalists at Unity Journal and Weekly Eleven were imprisoned too, so we need to protect our journalists in the future. That’s why we plan to hold preliminary discussions about [launching] a media freedom campaign,” he said.
All members of the media industry are invited to join the event at the House of Media and Entertainment (H.O.M.E.) on Rangoon’s Bo Aung Kyaw Road. Representatives of Myanmar Journalists Union, Myanmar Journalists Associations and the Myanmar Journalists Network will attend the discussions.
“During these detailed discussions we will talk about what we can do for the future of media freedom, the protection of journalists and we will decide who will lead the campaign and make plans,” Toe Zaw Latt said, adding that he expected the campaign to become the largest media freedom movement Burma has seen thus far.
Myint Kyaw, general secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network, said that in recent months Burma’s media environment has deteriorated, resulting in more arrests and increasing threats to journalists.
“If we don’t take any action the government will continue to pressure journalists. That’s why we need to find a way to prevent this from happening,” he said. “There are problems in the judiciary and legislative areas. The recent arrest of journalists is an example… That’s why we plan to hold the preliminary discussion on organizing a media freedom movement.”
After President Thein Sein’s reformist government took over from the previous military regime in 2011 numerous draconian media restrictions were lifted. Pre-publication censorship was abolished, detained journalists were released and publication of daily newspapers was allowed for the first time in decades.
Since December, the arrest and imprisonment of a number of journalists has raised concerns among Burma’s media industry over a roll-back on the growing freedoms the sector enjoyed since political reforms began in 2011.
Earlier this month, a Magwe Division court sentenced Zaw Pe, a video reporter with DVB, to one year in prison for trespassing at an education department office and disrupting the duties of a civil servant there. The sentencing was the result of a lawsuit lodged in 2012 by the education department.
In February, four journalists and an editor of Unity Journal were arrested and charged with violating the 1923 State Secrets Act and trespassing in a restricted area, after they published a story alleging that Chinese engineers were helping the Burma Army build a chemical weapons factory at Magwe’s Pauk Township. The defendants face a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
In December, Naw Khine Khine Aye Cho, a reporter of Eleven Media also known as Ma Khine, was sentenced by the Loikaw Township Court in Karenni State to three months imprisonment on charges of trespassing into the lawyer’s home while the reporter was seeking comments.
The government has also promised to replace restrictive media laws, but in March Parliament simultaneously adopted two media laws, one proposed by the Ministry of Information and one by the media industry. The former is considered restrictive as it gives the ministry the power to withhold or revoke publishing licenses unilaterally, while it contains vaguely defined bans on reporting that could “incite unrest”, “insult religion” and “violate the Constitution.”