Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA) representatives have told Information Minister Kyaw Hsan that they will not take part in the new 20-member Myanmar Core Press Council (MCPC) until changes are made to its powers and obligations.
The MCPC was formed to regulate the press until the new Media Law is passed later this year, but five MJA members on the council told a meeting on Sunday that they will not take any part until amendments are made to its authority.
“MJA representatives will not take part in the interim press council unless the unacceptable points in the MCPC obligations are amended,” said an earlier statement issued on Friday. After the new Media Law is passed a permanent press council is due to be formed to oversee journalistic ethics.
Thiha Saw, a MCPC member and vice-chairman of the MJA, said, “We asked to amend eight points in the MCPC’s obligations and authorities as it now looks like it will be replacing the tasks of the censorship board.”
“We cannot perform the censorship board’s job,” he added. “It is also against international standards. The council is to protect journalists and the freedom of the press.”
The MJA said that the current regulations contradict discussions with officials from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) from a couple of months ago.
Journalists asked to delete four points—to supervise the work of the press which is deemed detrimental to the public interests, dignity of the state and national sovereignty; to scrutinize imported publications so they conform with the national interest; exercising authority in accordance with the Evidence Act, Penal Code, Code of Civil Procedure and Tort; and MCPC members enjoying immunity from prosecution.
They also asked for other points to be reworded—that journalists must approve the draft Media Law instead of the legislation being solely compiled by the Ministry of Information; and combining sections 3 (c) and (i) to “settle disputes” regarding journalism ethics instead of “summoning, educating and taking action” over breaches.
Kyaw Hsan said that the MCPC’s activities will be postponed until the dispute with the MJA is settled, said Maung Wuntha, a MCPC member and chairman of the MJA.
“When the demanded points are changed and announced, we will join MCPC meetings,” Maung Wuntha told The Irrawaddy. However, Kyaw Hsan did not say whether their objections would be granted or turned down and there was no further discussion at the meeting about abolishing censorship in line with previously stated policy, added Maung Wuntha.
In the meantime, the PSRD informed journals on Sunday that they must continue to submit stories to the censor board as usual.
The MJA was formally established on Saturday during a nationwide journalists’ conference, a day after the formation of the MCPC was announced by the government. Five leading MJA members—Patron Khin Maung Lay, Chairman Maung Wuntha, Vice-Chairman-1 Ko Ko, Vice-Chairman-2 Thiha Saw and Foreign Relations chief Aung Hla Htun—were also named as representing one quarter of the MCPC.
The MJA also asked Kyaw Hsan to inform members in advance before any further announcements regarding the MCPC. Apart from the MJA contingent, there are 15 other MCPC members including lawyers, judges, academics and publishers appointed by the government.
Kyaw Hsan is known to be a hardliner in President Thein Sein’s administration and there are persistent rumors that he will be relieved of his cabinet post in a reshuffle to take place in the next few days.