Laws Restricting Media to Be Amended: Minister

By Moe Myint 3 May 2016

RANGOON — Burmese media should look forward to enjoying more freedom as laws enacted under the previous government are repealed, according to Information Minister Pe Myint, who spoke in Rangoon on Tuesday in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.

The minister told The Irrawaddy that he would not move forward alone, but rather intended to collaborate with media organizations to decide how to proceed before taking their recommendations to Parliament.

He declined to give a specific timeframe for when the laws would be amended or repealed, and referred reporters to the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), which he said would lead this endeavor.

Myint Kyaw, a member of the MPC, said the Ministry of Information would be responsible for handling a broadcast law, while the MPC would review the news media law. However, the state secrets act, some defamation legislation, and laws forbidding journalists from contacting ethnic armed organizations have affected journalists and are vestiges of British colonial rule, meaning responsibility for reform on those fronts falls to Parliament.

“We need to provide detailed reports and recommendations concerning the media laws, and we must present a well-informed legal perspective, so that we can get the related government ministries to take action,” Myint Kyaw said.

Media organizations can provide recommendations and other relevant information over the next three months, he said.

After the ceremony, Pe Myint met with several private media outlets, which pressed the minister to remove the advertisement pages from three government mouthpieces. The organizations claimed that the state-run dailies function as a vacuum in the industry, drawing in almost all advertising revenue, to the disadvantage of private media.

The information minister was noncommittal in response to the private media outlets’ concerns.

“We will come up with a reasonable ratio of news pages to advertisement pages,” he said.

Media organizations have so far largely applauded the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which has seen support buoyed by its release of students, journalists and other political prisoners just a few weeks after coming to power.

With regard to transparency, members of the press may see a more information-friendly environment over the coming years compared with the NLD government’s often opaque predecessor: According to Pe Myint’s 100-day plan, every ministry will have a dedicated communications officer to liaise with the media.