RANGOON — Burma’s Information Minister Aung Kyi says it could be late 2015 before state broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) is changed to a public service outlet.
A public service media bill aimed at overhauling the government mouthpieces has been sent to Burma’s army-dominated Parliament, but a lengthy discussion period is expected before the changes are implemented and MRTV takes up its projected public service role.
“I think public service media will be discussed in coming sessions of Parliament. It will take at least six months or more to be discussed in both Houses, and if there are any differences or arguments between them, it will go again to the Union Parliament,” Aung Kyi told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
Burma has a Lower and Upper House of Parliament, as well as a Union Parliament made up of representatives of both Houses. Burma’s 2010 elections saw a landslide win for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), while a 25 percent bloc of seats in the Houses are blocked off for current army cadres.
Elaborating on the likely timeframe for passing the public service media bill, the minister said that “according to my estimation it will take at least one year for the promulgations of Parliament and then it will become active only one year after the promulgations of that law.”
That would mean the law would not come into effect until near the end of 2015. “It could be after the elections,” the minister concluded.
That timetable falls behind the estimate given by Tint Swe, MRTV’s director-general, who told The Irrawaddy in August that Burma’s new public service media should be in place by early 2015, a timeframe that would have the revamped TV and radio stations operational in time for Burma’s 2015 national elections.
MRTV has introduced new services recently—including a channel dedicated to covering ethnic minority regions as well as a Parliament channel, while in advance of the public service makeover, expanded news and current affairs broadcasting are being lined up for the coming months.
The proposed bill has drawn fire from Burma’s media sector, some of whom say it means retaining a tilted playing field in favor of state-linked media, which already have an advantage in terms of resources and logistics over Burma’s private media. Otherwise the draft bill, which could see changes in Parliament before it is passed into law, has been welcomed by media watchdogs such as London-based Article 19.
The government and Burmese media have been at odds over other media-related legislation in recent months, such as the government-drafted Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill, and the Interim Press Council’s News Media Bill, which was passed by Burma’s Lower House in early November.
Lawmakers have also diluted proposed punishments for those deemed in breach of the proposed printing and publishing code, leading Aung Kyi to surmise that the row between government and the media has died down.
“I hope there will not be further disputation between the Interim Press Council [a body set up with government backing to represent journalists] and the Myanmar government,” said Aung Kyi, who added that he would support whatever parliamentarians decided to do with the various draft media laws.
“All of us have confidence in the Union Parliament and Parliament will decide on the laws,” he said.