Burma’s Press Council to Submit Bill to Lower House

By Nyein Pyae Sone, Reform 30 July 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s interim Press Council will try to bypass the government and submit its press bill directly to Parliament, following uneasy negotiations over the bill with the Ministry of Information.

Press Council member Zaw Thet Htwe said arrangements were being made to submit the bill during the current Parliament session with the help of an acting lawmaker.

The Press Council, an interim body comprised mostly of Burmese journalists and some government-appointed members, met last Wednesday in Naypyidaw with officials from the Ministry of Information and lawmakers from the Lower House’s committee on sports, culture and public relations development. They discussed the bill, which aims to define reporters’ rights, promote media ethics and boost overall press freedom for journalists and journal publishers.

“We mainly discussed the 17 points from the media bill, drafted by us, that the Ministry of Information disagrees with,” Zaw Thet Htwe, a sports journalist, told The Irrawaddy. “Because the Ministry of Information doesn’t agree with those points, it will not submit the bill to the Lower House. So we decided to submit the bill via a certain lawmaker or certain committee.”

He declined to specify which lawmaker or committee would assist the Press Council, but said the 17 points under contention would soon be announced to the public.

Ye Htut, the deputy minister of information and President Thein Sein’s spokesman, could not be reached for comment. In recent weeks he has said that 17 points of the Press Council’s bill failed to meet international standards and that without amendments, the ministry would not be able to submit the bill to the Lower House for consideration.

Also on Wednesday, prior to the meeting with ministry officials, members of the Press council reportedly met with the Upper House’s deputy speaker and lawmakers from the bill committee.

Parliament is also considering another media bill, known as the Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill, which focuses on Burma’s publishing industry. The bill was passed by the Lower House but has been criticized by press freedom watchdogs because it grants the ministry broad powers to issue and revoke publication licenses.

Press Council members have threatened to resign if the Upper House passes the publishing bill in its current form. In the meeting last week in Naypyidaw, they reportedly asked ministry officials to amend a provision in the bill that calls for the creation of a “registration officer” in the ministry who controls licensing.