Free Press Eludes Burma Despite End of Censorship
Working journalists in Burma fear legal challenges despite Rangoon's lifting of its decades-long censorship policy.
RANGOON — After months of delays, Burma's information ministry this week kept its pledge to lift part of its decades-old censorship policy. While reporters and editors grapple with the transition, many say a free press has not yet arrived.
This week, newspapers in Burma will hit newsstands without ministry censorship for the first time since 1962.
For the staff at The Myanmar Times, a Rangoon-based weekly, this is the first editorial meeting after the announced end of censorship.
Editor Zaw Myint is elated, because not having to deal with censors will save time and improve the quality of reporting.
"This is the same to my wedding day or something like that, but I will be more happy when we are granted as a daily license," he said. "Without censorship rules, with the chance to run our paper with a daily cycle, at that time I will be happier."
State-run newspapers are still the only ones allowed to publish daily, but private publishers hope to be granted daily licenses.
A released political prisoner and blogger who goes by the pen name Nay Phone Latt says online media in Burma remain unprotected. He says bloggers
are still vulnerable to prosecution under electronic laws banning anti-government material on computers.
"In the current media law, there is no place for the online media, so we are not safe," he said. "The electronic law still exists, so we are not safe according to this law."
Controversial editor Kyaw Min Swe fears that the newly formed press council will not necessarily protect journalists and censorship will continue, in the form of legal threats.
"They changed the system of PSB [Press Scrutiny Board] pre-censor to post-censor so that we have to submit after publication. So that’s not totally free press. We cannot say totally free press," he said.
Kyaw Min Swe has been sued by the government before for exposing a graft scandal. Despite the relaxed censorship laws, he still could face prosecution for reporting on government corruption or sensitive topics that could incite violence.