News / Asia

Burma Approves News Dailies Amid Outcry

Private Burmese Dailies to Publish Amid Outcryi
X
March 27, 2013 4:08 PM
When 16 Burmese newspapers are granted operating licenses on April 1, they will become the first private print dailies allowed to publish in Burma in nearly 50 years. . But the milestone comes amid concern over Burma’s newly-released draft media law, which critics say could roll back government promises to loosen its grip on a long tightly-controlled industry. Mark Snowiss has more.
Private Burmese Dailies to Publish Amid Outcry
When 16 Burmese newspapers are granted operating licenses on April 1, they will become the first independent dailies allowed to publish in nearly 50 years.
 
While journalists have described the move as a major step toward media freedom in Burma, they have also voiced outrage at the country's draft media law, released earlier this month, which critics say could roll back government promises to loosen its grip on a long tightly controlled industry.
 
That bill bans reporting on several topics, including the Burmese military's battles with ethnic rebels and any coverage critical of the 2008 military-drafted constitution. It also permits six-month jail terms for failing to register news publications with the government.
 
"If the authorities want to build a democracy, these kinds of restrictions should not be in place," said Wai Phyo, chief editor of Eleven Media, one of the leading private news organizations in Burma, also known as Myanmar. "If parliament passes the draft law and it impacts the Burmese media, we will fight it in every way possible."
 
The proposed legislation would replace a widely condemned 1962 publishing law that gives the government broad powers to control media output and punish journalists it considers to be working against the "national interest."
 
"If passed in its current form, the draft law would essentially replace Burma's old censorship regime with a similarly repressive new one," said Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
 
Burmese Information Minister Aung Kyi has defended the bill, noting that since media censorship was abolished, many new and "poisonous" publications have emerged. He cited dozens of magazines that have published photographs he labeled as "contrary to Myanmar's cultural norms."
 
Censorship lifted
 
In the decades following Burma's 1962 military coup, reporters in the southeast Asian nation were among the most restricted in the world. State-run media controlled the dissemination of hard news, and independent journalists were heavily censored. Many were spied on, tortured and imprisoned.
 
Even photos of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi were barred.
 
The only objective news coverage available during that time was produced by the country's robust exiled media, like the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma, and foreign broadcasters such as the Voice of America, BBC and Radio Free Asia.
 
But since Burma's ruling generals ended their dictatorship in March 2011, President Thein Sein's elected government has significantly relaxed media restrictions, allowing reporters to publish material that would have been unthinkable during five decades of military rule.
 
Last August, authorities stopped censoring private publications. Four months later, they announced plans to allow the publication of independent daily newspapers, which had been banned in 1964 to accommodate the government's onerous censorship requirements. The military government had allowed the publication of weeklies, whose distribution schedule afforded censors time to comb for illegal subject matter.
 
Meanwhile, the Burmese government began drafting the new media law, but without input from press groups.
 
"In our draft bill there will be no more censorship board and [we] will grant the right of international standards and some articles concerning the right of access to information," Ye Htut, deputy minister for information, said last May.
 
Journalists fight back
 
Media groups pushed back strongly when the ministry's printing and publishing bill was submitted to parliament earlier this month. Journalists' complaints helped delay a vote on the proposed legislation until representatives reconvene in June.
 
Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of the private weekly The Voice, said the speaker of parliament's lower house did not allow debate on the legislation "because many media organizations have sent letters of criticism" to parliamentary officials.
 
On Tuesday, the Information Ministry granted eight more media groups permission to publish dailies as of April 1, bringing the number of new licenses to 16.
 
Eleven Media, which has contributed cutting edge reporting on a number of sensitive issues, was among those green-lighted this week. The group's initial application was rejected on a technicality.
 
Internet tampering
 
While Burma's media liberalization moves haltingly forward, authorities have continued to clamp down severely on Internet use.
 
Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group that defends freedom of the press, this month accused the Burmese government of enforcing harsh and widespread Internet censorship.
 
"The Burmese firewall restricts users to an intranet purged of any anti-government content," the group said. "Blocked websites include exiled Burmese media, proxies and other censorship circumvention tools, certain international media, and blogs and sites offering scholarships abroad."
 
Other media watchdogs note that while previously censored news websites have been unblocked, the government still detains online dissidents.
 
In its 2012 Freedom of the Net report, Freedom House estimated that less than 1 percent of the Burmese population has Internet access. Users also are hampered by exceedingly slow connection speeds.
 
When Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt visited Rangoon last week, he urged authorities to allow free speech and private sector development of Burma's primitive telecommunications infrastructure.
 
Despite the setbacks, many journalists remain optimistic.
 
"The reform process has had a huge impact on the media landscape in Myanmar," said Thiha Saw, a veteran reporter and vice president of the Myanmar Journalists Association.
 
"Private, print media existed for 40-50 years under two military regimes, but with very strict restrictions and [heavy] censorship," he said. "[Now] it's all gone, starting in August last year, 48 years of pre-press censorship is gone."
 
Thiha Saw spent years battling with censors and is highly critical of the draft media law. In a recent interview, he predicted that Burmese journalists "won't be as free" as their Philippine or Thai colleagues, but will "definitely be more liberal than [those in] Cambodia, Vietnam or Singapore."

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs