Journalists Call on Burma to Scrap Controversial Press Law

By Aye Kyawt Khaing 13 March 2013

RANGOON — A new media law under consideration by the Burmese Parliament would create new forms of censorship and should be scrapped, journalists in Rangoon said on Tuesday.

The legislation would ban material that violates the country’s Constitution and incites unrest, among other things. It also grants wide-ranging powers to the Information Ministry’s Registration Department.

At a meeting at the Yuzana Garden Hotel in the former capital, members of three prominent journalists’ associations called on the government to support freedom of the press by revoking the draft Printing and Publishing Bill.

Hundreds of journalists from the Myanmar Press Council, Myanmar Journalists Association, Myanmar Journalists Union and Myanmar Journalist Network gathered at the hotel to condemn the bill.

The draft law, which would replace the draconian 1962 publishing law, gives the government broad powers to cancel publishing licenses, control media output and punish journalists it deems to be working against “the national interest.”

“At first we didn’t know who had drafted the bill, but then we discovered it was written by the Ministry of Information,” said Phay Myint, secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Association.

“The bill will be a serious blow to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. According to the draft, the official in charge of registration of publishers will control the whole process and have a lot of power. Everything we write and print will depend on his wishes,” Phay Myint added.

A statement condemning the bill was signed by the attendees and will be presented to President Thein Sein and Parliament.

The statement said journalists would support a new press law if it would benefit the public and was written in consultation with media representatives.

Wun Tha, president of the Myanmar Press Council, said in a democratic society laws governing the media should be written in consultation with the media, which had not been the case with the current draft.

The bill will also include online media in restrictions on reporting, which could negatively impact bloggers and “citizen journalists.”

“The controls in the bill means online journalists and citizen journalists will suffer the force of the authorities,” Nay Phone Latt, a blogger and recipient of the 2010 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award who was sentenced to prison in November 2008, told The Irrawaddy.

Aung Kyi, Burma’s minister of information, said on Friday the new bill would not have a negative impact on freedom of expression in the country, the New Light of Myanmar reported.