Government removes pre-publication censorship

[Original title: Burma removes prior censorship]

Mizzima/Yangon, 21 August – The Burmese government lifted censorship for all print publications on Monday, according to an announcement on the government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department website.

The long-promised censorship reform will apply to all domestic publications starting on Monday. Censorship was introduced in Burma in 1964.

After publication, copies of articles will stilll need to be submitted to the Burmese censorship board that is referred to as the “Press Kempeitai,” in reference to the stringent censorship applied by the Japanese during their occupation of Burma, said reports.

Currently, there is also a bill in Parliament designed to update the country’s media laws.

Pre-publication censorship — applied in the past to everything from newspapers to song lyrics, fiction, poems and even fairy tales — was one of the repressive methods of control used by the military junta, which handed over power to an elected Parliament last year.

Currently, domestic and international reporters are not allowed to travel and report freely in the country’s ethnic regions. How the removal of prior censorship will affect that restriction is unclear.

Media reforms had already been eased for all but news and religious publications.

Since taking office last year, President Thein Sein, a former general, has overseen sweeping, dramatic changes such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Parliament.

An estimated 30,000 Internet sites will reportedly get the benefit by the removal of censorship, observers said.

Local journalists greeted the announcement with jubilation and to some degree a sense of shock and disbelief after decades of harsh censorship, which until last year prohibited publishing any stories about Aung San Suu Kyi or her photograph.

Tint Swe, the deputy director of Information and Public Relations Department (PRSD), told Mizzima that 86 newspapers and 55 magazines will be affected by the ruling, and also calendars, postcards, greet cards and other printing material will not need to pass through the censors.

Ko Ko (YIT), the general secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Association, said that media personnel will need to be more accountable for their articles under the new policy.

“There will be accountability, along with freedom of the press. Under the freedom of press, if a story is written indiscriminately [not factually], there will be many problems,” Ko Ko told Mizzima. “[If a story harms] people or organizations, they will file lawsuits. In the countries that have freedom of press, that is common. So, [media persons] will have more accountability.”

Meanwhile, many Burmese writers and journalists have urged authorities to completely dissolve the PSRD.

The press censorship law enacted by General Ne Win in August 1962, shortly after his military coup, is still in force.

A newly proposed media law was submitted to the president’s office on August 7 and it will be submitted to ministries and the Burmese Parliament at a later date.

On August 9, the government formed a “Core Press Council,” which was met with general disapproval by working journalists who said they had little input into the formation of the government-backed group.

The West’s relations with Burma have taken a positive turn since the country’s democratically elected government implemented a set of reforms and displayed a positive approach toward the pro-democracy opposition. Today the government is moving rapidly to implement a range of democratic reforms that would have been inconceivable two years ago.

The government has been making efforts to seek peace with ethnic groups; passed legislation permitting trade union activity, established freedom of assembly and loosened censorship of the media; as well as created a government-controlled Human Rights Commission.

In the past, government censors prohibited any news that could reflect poorly on the military or the government it backed, and imposed stringent rules about reporting conflicts about conflicts ethnic groups. The country had no domestic source for reliable information about ethnic groups.

For decades, Burma has been regularly listed at the bottom of the world’s most censored countries. The Committee to Protect Journalists noted that the government dominated radio and television with a steady stream of propaganda.

Laws prevented the ownership of a computer without a license and banned the dissemination or posting of certain unauthorized information or material over the Internet. Prison sentences were used to punish reporters working for exile-run media groups or international publications. Regulations imposed in 2011 banned the use of flash drives and voice-over-Internet-protocol communication in Internet cafés. Local reporters with international agencies are subject to constant police surveillance; others only published stories under pseudonyms to prevent possible reprisals. Foreign reporters are regularly denied journalist visas unless the government aims to showcase a state-sponsored event.

Journalists and others who were discovered reporting information while on tourist visas were expelled.

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