Ethnic Media Calls for Inclusive Talks on New Media Law

By Lawi Weng 29 April 2013

RANGOON — Ethnic minority media groups should be included in drafting a new media law, an alliance of 11 news organizations said on Monday.

The news groups, which together form an umbrella organization called Burma News International, added that it was important that ethnic language media was promoted in the country.

The statement came after a three-day conference in Moulmein, Mon State, which concluded ethnic minority media should participate in Burma’s quasi-governmental Press Council, which will draft a new media law when the Burmese parliament returns from recess in the coming months.

“We want to participate in drafting a media law,” said Nai Kasauh Mon, editor in chief of the Independent Mon News Agency. “The new media law will be weak if we cannot participate because the Press Council may not understand the feelings of ethnic people when they write the law. This is what we are worried about.

“We want to suggest they include specialists in ethnic media issues and draft a section specifically dealing with ethnic media’s role in society.”

The heads of ethnic minority media outlets, speaking at a press conference on April 27, said it was important to let ethnic media publications publish in their native languages in-line with international standards of press freedom.

Burma has been in the process of drafting a new media law for the past two years, since the political reform program of President Thein Sein’s administration began in 2010.

For the first time, some of the ethnic media groups have been allowed back into the country, which has given them renewed impetus to be active participants in the debate over press freedom in Burma.

“We found it is not good enough for the current Press Council to be working on the media law alone, with no space for our ethnic media to take part,” Nai Kasauh Mon said. “We will contact them to request they let our ethnic media groups participate and help draft the media law.”

Despite almost half of Burma’s estimated 60 million people being from ethnic minorities, no newspapers or radio stations produced news in ethnic languages until 2010. Even now, the state has a monopoly on ethnic-language radio, which is broadcast from Naypyidaw.

Under the military regime that ruled Burma since 1962, ethnic-language media was banned.

Many ethnic minority people cannot speak or read Burmese, which has adverse effects on levels of education in ethnic areas of the country as information about the outside world is limited.

“If [the Burmese government] put restrictions on reporting ethnic issues, this will be like some kind of discrimination against our ethnic media groups,” said Nan Paw Gay, development officer of the Karen News Group. “They should let all media groups report freely on ethnic issues.”

Nai Kasauh Mon added that the issue was a wider problem with press freedom in Burma.

“We have to study the real situation about how much freedom we are granted under this new media law, in order for us to register and be based in the country,” he said. “We plan to base ourselves and register in the country, but we will not let them take our freedom.”

Min Latt, editor of the Than Lwin Times, said that there is no mention of ethnic languages in the registration process.

“They do not mention anything about allowing ethnic language media to print,” he said.

“They only say we permitted to print. We wanted to see indeed it say we are allowed to publish or print in our own ethnic languages.”