Myanmar to allow daily newspapers next year

Myanmar to allow daily newspapers next year

Myanmar's government claims it will introduce press reforms, but do local journalists feel that the authorities are being sincere?
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A Myanmar journalist works on his laptop as he waits outside a court for a ruling on a defamation case against 'The Voice Weekly' in Yangon on August 23, 2012. AFP

 

Myanmar's new information minister on Sunday predicted newspapers would be able to publish daily from early 2013, heralding fresh reform for a sector recently freed from decades of draconian censorship.

Aung Kyi told the Myanmar Times that state-owned newspapers, currently the only news publications able to be printed daily, would also be revamped with private sector involvement in the coming months.

"It is my sincere belief that daily [private sector] newspapers are essential for a democratic country," said Aung Kyi, who replaced a prominent hardliner last week when he was appointed as part of a cabinet reshuffle seen as promoting reformists in Myanmar's government.

Kyi declined to give a firm date for the issuing of daily publication licences to private sector news groups, many of which have turned to the web to provide up-to-the-minute content for a population hungry for information after years of restrictions, but estimated it could be "early next year".

"I am sincere in wanting to achieve a comprehensive press media law that meets international standards," he said, suggesting that the new proposed legislation could be delayed to give time for consultation with journalists and experts.

In August Myanmar announced the end of pre-publication censorship, previously applied to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales.

State-owned dailies include the English language New Light of Myanmar, which has shown scant signs of modernizing, except for an increase in celebrity gossip, since the country began its reforms.

But Aung Kyi said these publications were in line for "significant changes". Reporters jailed under the junta have also been freed from prison and a lighter touch from censors had already seen private weekly journals publish an increasingly bold array of subjects.

Is it really the end of censorship?

But there have been recent signs that it will take time for both newsrooms and the authorities to adjust to the new era of openness.

"Many of the restrictions, laws and regulations that were applied under the old regime will continue to apply under this new system," Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told AFP.

Two journals were recently suspended for a fortnight for prematurely printing stories without prior approval from the censors, prompting dozens of journalists to take to the streets in protest.

And the mining ministry is suing a weekly publication that reported the auditor-general's office had discovered misappropriations of funds and fraud at the government division.

The media also complained that there was not enough consultation about a new press law that was drafted by the information ministry in secret and is awaiting approval by the cabinet before being sent to parliament.

Earlier this month the authorities announced the creation of a "Core Press Council" including journalists, the majority with close links to the government, a former supreme court judge and retired academics to study media ethics and settle press disputes.

But some observers fear the moves are largely superficial changes by a regime seeking international acceptance.

"We question still the sincerity of these moves," said Crispin. "They seem to be giving just enough to try to win the next concession from the West and then, when they get that, resorting to their old wicked ways."

Source: DCMF, AFP

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