The Irrawaddy

Govt Vows to Lift Media Restrictions

Attendees at an event to mark World Press Freedom Day pose for a group photo in Mandalay on May 3, 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Burma’s government will lift “unnecessary” restrictions on the media when a new press law is introduced later this year, Deputy Information Minister Soe Win said on Thursday at an event in Mandalay to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Although no details were disclosed as to which restrictions would be removed, the remarks were generally well-received by Burmese journalists.

“We were very encouraged by his speech, but much remains to be done,” said Aung Hla Tun, a reporter for the Reuters news service.

At an event held at Rangoon’s Central Hotel, the Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN) acknowledged that the government has relaxed draconian controls over the media since last year, but urged it to remove all remaining restrictions.

“We have more space than before, but it’s still not enough. We want complete press freedom,” said MJN Secretary Phoe Naing Lin, noting that the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, Burma’s censorship board, continues to censor political news.

Win Tin, a veteran journalist and leading member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), also said that Burma’s current media situation fell far short of genuine press freedom.

“Real press freedom means being able to criticize [the government] and freely express opinions,” he said.

Plans to introduce a new media law have also been greeted with skepticism, with some arguing that the proposed legislation would only make the work of journalists more difficult, even as it created the appearance of greater freedom.

Ludu Sein Win, a senior journalist who is familiar with the law, said that journalists who participated in government-sponsored conferences to draft the law were only “helping to make a rope to hang themselves.”

Meanwhile, international press freedom watchdog groups also said that Burma needs further media reform.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance said that despite recent political changes in Burma, the country has yet to enshrine press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also gave Burma’s recent record mixed marks.

According to CPJ, Burma came in seventh from the bottom, ahead of Uzbekistan, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea. Despite this low ranking, however, this was marked improvement over last year, when Burma was ranked second worst in the world.

CPJ also noted that the Burmese government has increasingly turned to the courts to restrict media freedom, instead of resorting to outright censorship. It cited the example of a defamation action launched by the Ministry of Construction against the Modern Weekly journal earlier this year over an article that criticized the state of Mandalay’s roads.