Advocates: NLD Govt Has Failed to Advance Press Freedom

By Tin Htet Paing 2 May 2017

RANGOON — The National League for Democracy (NLD) government failed to make progress in increasing press freedom during its first year in office, local lobbyists and rights groups claimed on Tuesday, stressing that there is “no clear path forward” developed by the new government concerning the issue.

One day before the World Press Freedom Day 2017, advocates from 14 local organizations—including the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), Myanmar IT for Development Organization, PEN Myanmar, Myanmar Journalists Association, Yangon Journalism School, Burma News International and Article 19—issued an eight-page assessment report on the country’s landscape concerning freedom of expression under one year of NLD government leadership.

The group evaluated situations in six particular areas—laws and regulations, media independence and freedom, digital freedom, freedom of assembly, speech and opinion, right to information, and safety and security—with a scale of 10 points for outstanding achievement and 0 for regression in each area.

According to the indicators, the NLD government only achieved 8 out of 60 points in all six areas—1.3 points on average for each sector—which reflects a situation between “no progress” and “very little progress” regarding freedom of expression.

“Acknowledging that the challenges for reversing decades of repression are significant, [assessment] participants pointed to multiple areas in which no clear path forward has been explicated by the new government, let alone embarked upon,” the assessment stated.

Initial findings from the first six-month assessment from April-September of 2016 were used as a comparative baseline for this one-year assessment, according to the report. It also provides a total of 26 recommendations for all six sectors, including the abolishment of Article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law to foster greater digital freedom, and to do away with government mouthpieces for media independence and freedom.

U Myo Myint Nyein, chair of PEN Myanmar, said at the Tuesday assessment report launch event that the NLD government maintains the old policies of the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party concerning the press, noting how state-owned newspapers and broadcast media still serve as government propaganda rather than as public service media.

He also emphasized an urgent need to enact the Right to Information Law that guarantees access to information across public sectors and establishes mechanisms for implementation in order to ease the challenges facing journalists when trying to collect official documents, given the history of media blackouts by Burma’s previous governments.

“Some [government officials] are afraid to reply to [journalists’ inquiries] while some think there is no need to do so or don’t know how to,” U Myo Myint Nyein said.

U Zin Linn, a consultant from Burma News International, said the report is “not to pressure or blame the government, but to give constructive suggestions,” since the NLD must reform respective sectors according to principles of transparency and accountability.

A recently released index by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Burma 131 out of 180 assessed countries around the world in 2017 concerning press freedom. It went up 12 places, but dropped 3.66 points in comparison to the 2016 index, with the report stating that self-censorship in Burma continues in connection with government officials and the military.