Burma’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) has suspended indefinitely the publication of two weekly news journals for alleged violations of government regulations.
“The Voice Weekly and Envoy journals are suspended indefinitely for violating the 2011 Order no. 44,” said Tint Swe, the PSRD’s deputy director-general, adding that the journals had violated “many PSRD rules,” including the publishing of news reports that had not been passed by the government censorship board.
According to an official at the PSRD who asked to remain anonymous, the ban was imposed because of The Voice Weekly ran a news story about a Cabinet reshuffle, naming five ministers, and a satirical cartoon on the cover page, while Envoy published excerpts from an ill-tempered interview that parliamentarian Aung Thein Linn held with the Chinese site Southern Weekend.
The move to suspend the journals—both popular and well-reputed—comes as a surprise to many observers as the once notorious censorship board had been making several moves toward media reform at a pace with other changes under the new government.
According to media sources in the former Burmese capital, Rangoon, Tint Swe and Director-General Myint Maung called together the editors of all weekly news journals on Tuesday and told them to follow the regulations set down by the PSRD and the 1962 Printer and Publisher Act.
Tint Swe said The Voice Weekly has published eight news stories without submitting them to the censorship board while Envoy had gone to print with seven.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday following the meeting with PSRD officials, Thar Lun Zaung Htet, the editor in charge of the weekly Venus news journal, said, “We are even afraid to publish the news. We are worried for our future.”
In June, Burma’s Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, accompanied by PSRD officials, told reporters at a press conference that he intended to abolish the censorship board just as soon as a new media law is passed.
Thar Lun Zaung Htet said, “The PSRD asked us to collaborate with them during this transition period. But the abolition of the censorship board was supposed to happen some time before the end of June. It didn’t happen.”
The current parliament has in its agenda the motion to debate the media law among other bills. The Lower House speaker told its MPs at a recent meeting that they must all work together to approve a new media law by the end of August, according to the house’s own website.
Observers pointed to the attitude of “old-timers” within the ministries and government bureaus who simply refuse to conform to new standards.
Tuesday’s decision marks the sixth time that The Voice Weekly has been banned from publishing—it previously received punitive measures twice in 2005 and three times in 2010, according to the journal’s own Facebook page. However, previous bans were specifically for one to four weeks—this time the journals could be looking at a distinctly more serious disruption of service.
Last month, news journal The Snapshot was suspended for publishing the photograph of a dead Arakanese girl which is believed to have ignited the recent violence in western Arakan State. The Snapshot is to go to court over its publication of the Arakanese girl’s picture.
The Voice Weekly is also currently facing a defamation suit brought by the Ministry of Mining.