Public Service Media Bill Shelved by Parliament

By Zarni Mann 18 March 2015

MANDALAY — After languishing for more than a year, an omnibus bill aimed at overhauling government-run media services has been withdrawn from the Union Parliament at the request of the Ministry of Information.

Information Minister Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that the request to withdraw the public service media bill was withdrawn without any objections from lawmakers on Wednesday.

“The draft law has been withdrawn in order to be amended in accordance with the changing situation of the country and to consider the suggestions from media organisations and public received by the ministry,” he said.

According to the minister, the bill will be also reviewed with the television and broadcasting bill, which passed the upper house of parliament at the end of November but has yet to be enacted.

The public service media draft law will be reviewed with the help of experts from UNESCO and other media organisations, however the ministry has not given any details over the length of the review period or when the revised bill will be tabled.

Introduced to parliament in March last year, the draft law would transform lucrative government-owned media organizations into not for profit enterprises. Earlier this month, Ye Htut anticipated state-run daily newspapers generating more than 4 billion kyats (US$3.86 million) in revenue for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The bill also mandates editorial independence for state-owned media organizations, the incorporation of content which reflects Burma’s ethnic diversity, and the broadcast of programs which cater to minority languages.

The previous information minister, Aung Kyi, told The Irrawaddy in Nov. 2013 that the bill was unlikely to come into effect until after the 2015 general election, contradicting MRTV director-general Tint Swe, who predicted at the time that a revamped suite of state-owned television stations, radio services and newspapers would be operational by the beginning of this year.

Journalists and media professionals criticized the bill shortly after it was tabled, arguing that it provided an unfair competitive advantage to state-run enterprises and casting doubt on its capacity to ensure editorial independence in services that have long served as government mouthpieces.