Government Urged to Strengthen Safeguards on Press Freedom

By The Irrawaddy 1 June 2016

A prominent US-based media rights organization has written to President Htin Kyaw, urging the new government to strengthen legal protections on press freedom, and ensure that reporters can practice their profession independently and without fear of reprisal.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) commended the government for granting a presidential pardon to four reporters and the CEO of Unity Journal. The five were serving seven-year prison sentences with hard labor, under the colonial-era State Secrets Act, for a series of investigative reports in January 2014 on what they claimed was a secret chemical weapons factory run by the Burma Army.

The CPJ letter also welcomed the government’s recent move to abolish the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, a law that former military-backed governments in Burma have used to prosecute and imprison journalists for reporting news deemed detrimental to broadly defined “national security.”

Recent comments from Information Minister Pe Myint, that the government would soon ask parliament to amend or repeal various other laws restricting media freedom in Burma, were also welcomed in the letter.

However, CPJ in their letter urged that the 1923 Official Secrets Act—used against the five from Unity Journal and many other journalists previously—be replaced with a Freedom of Information Act to ensure transparency across the government and bureaucracy.

The letter also recommended the amendment or repeal of the 2014 Printing and Publishing Law, which allows the government to withhold media licenses and ban reporting deemed damaging to “national security, rule of law, or community peace and tranquility,” or deemed to be “insult[ing to] religion.”

Laws governing the use of electronic media should also be amended to better safeguard press freedom, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in the letter. The 1908 Unlawful Associations Act—which criminalizes contact with the majority of Burma’s ethnic armed groups—was also criticized as threatening to the work of journalists, many of whom must report on the long-running conflicts in Burma’s borderlands.