Media Urges Govt to Scrap Article 66(d)

By Nyein Nyein 27 June 2017

LOIKAW, Karenni State — Members of the media concerned about the growing use of Article (66)d of the Telecommunications Law urged the government to reconsider the legislation.

Editors, journalists and the information minister talked about the controversial law, which has been criticized for suppressing freedom of expression, and the problems that social media presents to the mainstream press, at the Ethnic Media Conference in Loikaw on Monday.

Editor of the Karen Information Center, Nan Paw Gay, said Article 66(d) is “an obstacle to freedom of expression and a threat to all people in the media.”

“Article 66(d) should be thoroughly reviewed and if it needs to be revoked, the government should not hesitate to do so, and then draft new legislation that does not affect the media’s ethics,” she said.

Editor and founder of Mawgun magazine, U Zayyar Hlaing, would “not disagree” with the parliamentarians and people in government who have argued that Article (66)d should be kept in order to control social media users who act without ethics or responsibility.

“But it is an injustice that a person is detained for what he or she said even though they are not committing any physical crimes,” he said.

Some 20 media members have been charged under Article 66(d) including The Voice Daily news editor U Kyaw Min Swe, said U Zayyar Hlaing, quoting figures from the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Ko Thiha, a media trainer at Yangon Journalism School, said media practitioners—especially registered print media outlets—are already ethical and responsible.

Part of the problem, he added, lies with media bodies such as the Press Council, whose responsibility is to intervene in disputes among the media or between the media and its audience.

“However good we are at journalistic ethics, we cannot do anything if an organization like the Press Council is weak and incompetent,” said Ko Thiha.

Ko Myo Myint Zaw, a central member of the Thandwe-based Rakhine Journalist Association, argued that Article 66(d) should be scrapped.

“As an online media group, we worry about posting our news reporting because we could be arrested at anytime and charged for what the authorities deem as wrong reporting,” he said.

The media practitioners told The Irrawaddy that authorities pledged to use Article 66(d) for serious cases of unethical, irresponsible and defamatory posts, but it has been used more widely. The mainstream media is being charged under the law and denied bail, they added.

In his opening speech, information minister U Pe Myint told the conference that technology has blurred the line between the mainstream media and social media, which, he said, underlined the importance of media practitioners being ethical.

“Media practitioners, including social media users, need to balance their freedom of expression and defamation against others,” said U Pe Myint.

The minister acknowledged that wider use of Article 66(d) to target “irresponsible” Facebook posts has impacted the mainstream media.

He told The Irrawaddy that legal experts and parliamentarians would review the law.