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Burma: Media Reform Program

(Mar. 23, 2012) The Minister of Information and Culture of Myanmar (Burma), Kyaw Hsan, stated on March 19, 2012, at a two-day conference on “Media Development in Myanmar,” that his ministry has been implementing a three-step process of reform of media in the country through which press restrictions are gradually being relaxed. In the first step, he stated, “we are paving the way for domestic periodicals to practice press freedom with responsibility and accountability” in order for them “to work in harmony with the future print media law.” The Minister added, “[b]ecause of these reforms today, 173 journals and 124 magazines can now publish without prior approval from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department … .” (Burma: Minister Explains 3-Step 'Media Reform Process' at Conference, MIZZIMA NEWS (Mar. 20, 2012), WORLD NEWS CONNECTION online subscription database, Doc. No. 201203201477.1_05d900abd973d4a3.)

The second step is the process of drafting a new print media law to replace the 1962 Registration of Printers and Publishers Law and to ensure freedom of the press as guaranteed by the Constitution. (Id.) Article 354(a) of the Constitution provides that every citizen shall be at liberty “to express and publish freely their convictions and opinions,” provided it is not contrary to the country's laws, security, law and order, and public order and morality. (Constitution of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar (2008), BURMALIBRARY.)

The 2008 Constitution was drafted by Burma's military junta, however, and critics state that while it “does include more detail and cover a wider scope of topics than average” and “[s]ome topics, particularly state of emergency procedures, receive considerable attention,” it “barely explains the fundamental rights of Burmese citizens.” (Arnold Corso, How Long Will Burma's New Constitution Last? (Feb. 2, 2010), THE IRRAWADDY.) The country's “new, nominally civilian government” only took office in March 2011. (Aung San Suu Kyi Wins Right to Run in Burma Elections, THE GUARDIAN (Feb. 6, 2012).)

The third stage entails the Ministry of Information's oversight of the implementation of the new print media law as the private media exercise the freedoms and obligations set forth in it. The Minister stated, “we are not drafting the new media law with the intention of banning or hampering press freedom. Our aim is to facilitate the proper use of press freedom for the long-term progress of Myanmar's media sector.” Despite questioning of the government's right to supervise the media, he argued, “our goal is the emergence of current media reforms (and the) the emergence of a genuine fourth estate in a democratic society.” (Burma: Minister Explains 3-Step 'Media Reform Process' at Conference, supra.)

The media conference, organized by the Ministry of Information and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), featured presentations by scholars and experts on international best practices in media development. Local media professionals, policy makers, and civil society advocates also participated. Some of the issues addressed included laws and ethics of media practices, the role of media in peace building and national reconciliation, and professionalization of journalists. (Id.)