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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs