Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Myanmar enacts first media law

Myanmar's government has enacted its first Media Law that would assure continued freedom currently enjoying by local media, after nearly five decades of censorship and harsh restrictions under military rule.

Information Ministry sources said Tuesday that President Thein Sein, a former army general who came to power following parliamentary elections in 2011, signed into law a related bill that approved by parliament earlier this month.

The Media Law, drafted by a council of prominent local journalists under the presidential decree in 2012, assures freedom from censorship as part of rights and privileges granted to the local media, while at the same time highlighting ethics and responsibilities to promote quality journalism.

But another law approved by parliament together with the Media Law offsets many of those freedoms, rights and privileges by controlling publication licenses.

The government-drafted Printers and Publishers Registration Law says anybody who wishes to operate a printing machine for mass media or work as a publisher must be licensed by the Information Ministry.

The Media Law says news publications have the right to be free from censorship, while media personnel have the right to demand information from the government, unless it is classified.

Under the law, an independent Press Council, comprised of 15 to 30 members with three nominated by the president and the speakers of the two houses of parliament, will be formed to oversee media organizations to ensure quality journalism and to help journalists deal with legal ramifications of their reporting.

The Media Law says journalists accused of violating media ethics may be dealt with by the council instead by law enforcement authorities, with those found guilty fined up to 1 million kyat (about US$1,000).

However, it says publications and journalists accused of instigating religious or communal unrest through their publications may be prosecuted for violating the law.

Article 10 of the Printers and Publishers Registration Law specifies that a printer or publisher must not publish articles that could jeopardize national security, rule of law, or community peace and tranquility.

Any publication suspected of violating the clause shall face immediate suspension and could be declared an unlawful publication by the court, it says.

Local publishers and journalists have expressed concern over the clause, saying there is no clear definition of how the reports and publications could be interpreted as harmful.

Press freedom was revoked in Myanmar in 1962 when the then dictator Gen. Ne Win staged a military coup and nationalised the media. The country had no private daily papers until last year.

source: Bangkok Post
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