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Greater freedoms for long-shackled press

Censorship ends but problems remain for the Myanmar press

The press is freer but challenges remain, say editors The press is freer but challenges remain, say editors
  • Min Set, Yangon
  • Myanmar
  • October 15, 2012
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For half a century, Myanmar was one of the only countries in the world to directly censor newspapers before publication.

Under military rule a censorship office in Yangon would go through every article line by line and cross out words and sentences deemed too critical or inappropriate in this predominantly Buddhist country.

Reforms have seen the government recently abolish the censorship board. Many editors in Yangon say that this not only makes the news media freer; it also reduces their workload. Newspapers previously spent hours every week ferrying copy over to the censor’s office and would have to redo page layouts when whole stories were cut, a common event.

But editors also say that things are still tough for the news media, mainly because a rising number of newspapers have been targeted by lawsuits.

The Ministry of Mines has sued weekly journal The Voice after it reported alleged corruption perpetrated by officials involved in a mining deal.

Kyaw Min Swe, the publication’s editor and secretary of the new interim press council, said that freedom of expression has improved but there are still key problems to address as well as the one of lawsuits.

Journalists now have to take more responsibility, he said, as many in the past used the censorship board to deflect criticism over inaccurate reporting.

“The media needs to refrain from threats, avoid illegal actions and must adopt the spirit of responsibility. It must prove that they deserve media freedom.”

The nominally civilian administration recently replaced former Information Minister Kyaw Hsan – who many analysts considered a hard-line remnant of the previous military regime – in favor of Aung Kyi, formerly the government’s go-between with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung Kyi said that the government has initiated a number of changes aside from the abolition of the censorship board.

Government officials were meeting more regularly with journalists, he said, and are directly involved in drafting a new media law which will soon be presented to parliament.

“Media freedom should be implemented in every democratic country – they [news media] give a service to the public,” he added.

Htet Naing Zaw, editor of the news journal Venus news, said Myanmar has made significant progress on media freedom but that the government remains too weak to sort out key problems including the rise in legal action against journalists.

He expressed concern that the new media law may not address these issues.

At the start of the year, before the censorship board was abolished, Reporters Without Borders ranked Myanmar a lowly 169th in the world out of 197 countries in terms of press freedom.

Related reports

State abolishes press censorship
Myanmar workers wary of new press council
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