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Burma: Call for Amendment of Controversial Press Bill

(Aug. 28, 2013) After a discussion held on August 23, 2013, the Bill Committee of the Upper House of the Parliament of Burma (Myanmar) has called for the cancellation and amendment of certain sections of controversial draft legislation on printing and publishing enterprises. The draft legislation was approved by the Lower House in July. (Parliamentary Bill Committee Calls for Press Bill Amendment, ELEVEN (Aug. 24, 2013).) Aimed at replacing the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, the proposed new law was tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2013. (Constance Johnson, Burma: Draft Publishing Law Criticized, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Mar. 7, 2013) [the article has a link to the text of the1962 Act].) As a result of the August 23 discussion, it seems that the Bill Committee will conduct further hearings on the draft law. (Parliamentary Bill Committee Calls for Press Bill Amendment, supra.)

According to an MP from Rakhine State, among the legislation’s 32 sections, “sections 4 and 5 were the most unacceptable for media people,” and while he supported the Bill Committee’s decision to delete part 2 of section 5, he urged that part 1 be struck out as well. (Id.) Part 2 stated: “[i]f a party who receives the certificate of registration is found to have been accomplishing the work contrary to the provision of this law, then, the Minister may revoke or terminate his or her certificate for a specified period.” (Id.) Part 1 states that the Minister may also revoke or terminate a registration certificate for a specified period if the party who received it is found to have applied for the certificate dishonestly or with deceitful intent. In the MP’s view, this provision is “unnatural … because the registration must be thoroughly scrutinized” upon application for it,” and he proposed that heavy fines be imposed instead of revocation if the media enterprise is found to have violated the law. (Id.)

Furthermore, current law provides that a publisher may concurrently publish three to five journals, so that if one of its journals is found to be in violation of the law, that journal alone would be revoked or terminated. Section 19 of Chapter 6 of the draft law states, however, “[n]o one shall print, publish or distribute any publication or initiate news agency undertakings once the certificate of registration is revoked or suspended for a specified period.” (Id.) The Rakhine State MP pointed out that “no one” should be deleted, because it could hurt publication of the publisher’s other journals. (Id.)

Another MP pointed out that while the draft law provides that the Ministry of Information must issue the certificate of recognition to an applicant in accord with Chapter 6, a director of a sub-department should be specifically designated in the law as the unit at the higher level to which the application for the certificate of recognition is to be submitted. Section 6 of Chapter 3 of the draft law is unclear as to the position of the official with the authority to issue the certificate. (Id.)

The current form of the draft Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill has continued to meet with criticism outside the legislature as well. Journalists from Burma’s interim Press Council threatened to resign if the legislation were passed by the Upper House in the form adopted by the Lower House, and press watchdogs contended that it “threatens to reverse Burma’s fragile gains in press freedoms under President Thein Sein’s government, which took office in 2011 and abolished pre-publication censorship of print media in 2012.” (Samantha Michaels, Intl. Press Watchdogs Condemn Burma’s Publishing Bill, THE IRRAWADDY (July 10, 2013).) In the view of Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of the London-based human rights group Article 19, “[o]ur analysis of the Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law bill shows that it falls far, far below international standards and if it were adopted would, in effect, retain a system of full government control over the media.” (Id.)

In addition to the draft printing and publishing enterprise law, draft legislation on the media, public service media, and broadcasting is to be submitted to the Parliament. According to Lower House MP Min Oo, if all of this draft legislation were combined into one draft law,  the resulting piece of legislation would be in conformity with international norms. (Parliamentary Bill Committee Calls for Press Bill Amendment, supra.)