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Media workers wary of new press council

Journalists say new media law must end censorship

Journalists take photos at an event marking World Press Freedom Day in Yangon on May 3. Journalists take photos at an event marking World Press Freedom Day in Yangon on May 3.
  • Thomas Toe, Yangon
  • Myanmar
  • May 29, 2012
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A shake-up in Myanmar's media and censorship laws and the formation of a new press council might be hailed as a major step in the country's march towards democracy, but it has met with a guarded response from media workers.

At a meeting with editors, writers, publishers and distributors in Yangon earlier this month, Information Minister U Kyaw San announced that the existing Press Scrutiny and Registration Board would be scrapped in June, to be replaced by a self-governing press council.

He asked the participants to nominate representatives from the Myanmar Journalists Union, Myanmar Journalists Network and Myanmar Journalists Association, who would head the new council.

But Zaw Thet Htwe, a former political prisoner and editor, said the Journalists Union which he founded would not be joining yet. "Challenges lie ahead for the council, as we have no idea how it will be formed and who will be the members," he said. “It must be formed with people respected by the public. If the members are appointed by the government, it will all stay the same except for a change in the name of the association. "We are still watching closely to see how it will be structured."

He voiced a further concern when he said "a new media law has been proposed by the Ministry of Information and we haven’t read it yet, so we're not sure if it will mean a free media or not. I really worry that the law will be sent for parliamentary approval without the wishes, suggestions and approval of media people, because it will be difficult to amend it then."

Maung Wuntha, patron of the Journalists Association organizing committee, was of the same opinion. "We will not join the press council unless it is free from government interference," he said.

He wants to see an amendment enshrined in the new law that gives freedom to report and publish articles that may be against the country’s political and cultural policies. His fear is that the government may continue to try to control the media and the new press council will simply become a tool to facilitate that. "We don’t want that to happen," he said. "We will not accept either direct or indirect control, from the government or any other association.”

Tin Zar Zaw, a young editor from Popular News Journal and a member of the Journalists Network, took perhaps a more optimistic view when she said: "With no more censorship we will be able to publish freely, which means freedom with responsibility. "Editors will have to decide whether to publish or not. They will be the ones who will take responsibility and be held accountable."
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