Journalist Groups Object to Govt's Press Council Plans

By Nyein Nyein, Reform 17 May 2012

Three groups representing Burma’s journalists say that they will submit a letter to the country’s Ministry of Information objecting to rules relating to a proposed Press Council that will be formed after the current censorship board is abolished.

The three groups—the Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA), the Myanmar Journalists Network and the Myanmar Journalists Union (MJU)—have each held meetings regarding the Press Council regulations. All three, along with associations representing writers, publishers and distributors, recently met with Information Minister Kyaw Hsan in his Rangoon office.

Kyaw Hsan said that Burma’s censorship board, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), will soon be abolished and that a Press Council will be formed with the approval of President Thein Sein to monitor the media. The meeting participants were also told to provide a list of six representatives from each of their associations.

Ko Ko, the general secretary of the MJA’s organizing committee and the CEO of the Rangoon Media Group, told The Irrawaddy that the group will tell the ministry which of the proposed rules it finds objectionable.

“We agree with the formation of the press council but we don’t agree with some of the rules,” he said.

“Specifically, we don’t accept the provision that states that the press council will operate under the Registration Department,” he said, referring to the body that will replace the PSRD.

The press council should be an independent organization responsible for resolving disputes, rather than a body charged with enforcing Burma’s draconian press laws, he added.

Under the proposed regulations, the Press Council will monitor journalists to make sure that their work is in accord with the 1962 Printer and Publisher Registration Act and 12-point censorship policy.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, former political prisoner and sports journal editor Zaw Thet Htwe, who currently serves as an organizing committee member of the MJU, said that his group has no plan to join the Press Council at this time.

“Our union aims to protect freedom of expression and journalist’s rights, but based on the minister’s description of the Press Council’s role, we are reluctant to participate in it,” he said.

“I don’t think that the press council will be different from the old censorship board if it includes former members of the PSRD,” he added.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Thiha Saw, the editor of Open News Journal and vice-chairman of the MJA’s organizing committee, expressed a similar opinion.

“We assumed that the Press Council would work for the development of journalistic ethics and to protect the rights of journalists,” he said, adding that he didn’t feel the new body fulfilled these expectations.

The three journalists associations said they will hold a joint meeting soon to share their views on this issue and to form a united front when they present their views to the government.