Journalists Will Help Draft Press Law, Says Minister

By Lawi Weng, Reform 10 September 2012

Burma’s Information Minister Aung Kyi on Sunday told journalists that he wishes their participation in drafting a new media law at a series of meetings in Rangoon.

Speaking individually to seasoned and independent Burmese reporters, Aung Kyi said that he plans to reform the Myanmar Core Press Council (MCPC), and invite more journalists to participate in its meetings to discuss and draft a modern press law which meets international standards.

Aung Kyi, who replaced former Information Minister Kyaw Hsan in a recent Cabinet reshuffle, told the journalists that he would first offer the framework of the draft law to the Information Ministry for revision—a stage he referred to as “Zero Draft”—before making the draft law public and inviting members of Burma’s press corps the opportunity to offer their input.

Several journalists’ groups said they welcomed the offer of cooperation from the Information Minister, and said they would participate at the MCPC toward establishing a reformed press law.

Although he did not attend the meeting in person, MCPC member Thiha Saw, who is vice-chairman of the Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA), told The Irrawaddy on Monday: “It was interesting to hear about Aung Kyi’s plan. As far as I heard, the MCPC will drop the former restrictions on the press and on reporting.”

The MCPC, founded in early August, will now include government officials and local journalists and editors from broadcasting and print media.

Thiha Saw said he applauded the decision to invite members of various media groups to participate in MCPC affairs. Previous requests by journalists to inspect the draft media law with a view to providing input were rebuffed by Aung Kyi’s predecessor.

Several experienced media representatives have expressed skepticism that the new law will be sufficiently reformed and have suggested that it may be based too closely on the draconian 1962 press law.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, MCPC member Ko Ko said, “We now feel a sense of freedom.

“We must start working together to write a new law, and confine the 1962 law to history.”

Aung Kyi—a former labor minister and one-time government liaison to pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi—has previous experience in drafting legislation: he wrote the current labor law during his tenure with the Ministry of Labor, said Ko Ko.

Aung Kyi reportedly told journalists at Sunday’s meeting that he will make public the draft press law, consult with all journalists, and even hold workshops to discuss the draft before it is passed to Parliament.

A spokesperson for the Committee for Freedom of the Press, Zaw Thet Htwe, said he had a positive feeling from the meeting. However, he said, “We will need to wait and see to what extent our ideas are included.”

Myint Kyaw, the general-secretary for the Myanmar Journalist Network, said, “We [MJN] have requested permission to participate in the press law-drafting process for a long time. We sincerely hope that a new, good, comprehensive law will come out of this.”

Several journalists groups said they hoped the new press law will come into effect next year.

“Instead of rushing it through, we should take it slowly to ensure that a better media law is put in place,” said Ko Ko.