Burma Govt Forms Interim Press Council

By Nyein Nyein 10 August 2012

Facing growing criticism for stalling on promises to abolish its draconian censorship board, Burma’s government has announced that it has formed a new 20-member interim press council, state media reported on Friday.

Called the Myanmar Core Press Council (MCPC), the new body will be chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge and include academics, lawyers and members of press associations.

The move comes two months after Information Minister Kyaw Hsan told journalists that the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), Burma’s censorship board, would soon be abolished and replaced by an independent press council.

However, that council has yet to materialize due to delays in drafting a new media law, which is due to be passed during the current session of Parliament, which ends in September. The government-appointed MCPC will serve in its place until the new law has been enacted.

The MCPC’s duties will include dealing with ethical issues, providing journalistic training and resolving disputes among media practitioners, according to a notification order published in the state-run media.

The council will also draft a Press Council Bill—one of the demands made by journalist associations after they rejected regulations for the council proposed by the Ministry of Information in June.

“There have to be meetings between the Information Ministry and the members of the press council, because its members were appointed by the government but haven’t even met yet,” said Ko Ko, the secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Association, who was named secretary of the MCPC.

Despite Kyaw Hsan’s promises in June to limit the PSRD’s responsibilities to registering publications,  it continues to act as a censorship board. Ko Ko says, however, that it could now be abolished within weeks.

After it is abolished, “around six daily newspapers will be established,” according to sources in the Information Ministry.

Criticism of the PSRD became more outspoken last week after it suspended publication of two journals—The Voice Weekly and Envoy—at the end of July. The move prompted protests in Rangoon and Mandalay, and the PSRD announced earlier this week that the two journals would be allowed to resume publication in the third week of August.

Despite the formation of the press council, however, some publishers say they are still not satisfied.

Aung Paw Htun, an editor with the Messenger journal, said that the members of the council should have been elected independently by journalists. “Only an independent press council can protect journalists in accordance with journalistic ethics,” he said.

The Eleven Media Group said on its website that it cannot accept the government’s formation of this interim council and does not believe that it can work for journalistic ethics.

The Myanmar Journalist Network, an association consisting mostly of young journalists, recently decided that it would not join the council, a quarter of whose members are from the Myanmar Journalists Association.