Myanmar media law blasted
- Published: 2/03/2013 at 01:52 PM
- Online news:
YANGON - Media groups reacted with dismay on Saturday to a proposed law to regulate the press that has raised fears the government could be rolling back on promises to loosen its grip on the long-shackled industry.
The printing and publishing bill, drafted by the Ministry of Information, has listed a number of restrictions - including reporting on clashes between ethnic groups and producing articles that "violate" the junta-drafted constitution of 2008.
The proposed legislation, which also laid out strict penalties of up to six months in jail for those operating without valid accreditation, came as a shock for the country's interim press council, which is drafting a separate media law.
"It's an annoyance for us. We think the penalties are much harsher than necessary," council member Zaw Thet Htwe told AFP.
According to state media, the bill proposes to ban reporting on topics such as criticism of the constitution. It also would prohibit publication of any news that could "disturb the rule of law", "incite unrest", or "violate the constitution and other existing laws".
As well, owners of publications that fail to register with the government would face six-month jail terms.
Myanmar has surprised observers with a raft of reforms under a quasi-civilian government that replaced outright military rule in 2011, including holding elections that swept democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament.
Pre-publication censorship rules were scrapped in August - ending draconian controls that applied to everything from newspapers to song lyrics - and the country recently announced it would allow private newspapers to publish daily for the first time in decades from April.
But a notice in the state-run New Light of Myanmar on Saturday said that only eight out of 17 applications for daily licences had so far been approved.
Eleven Media Group, one of the country's larger newspaper publishers, said its application had been rejected on technical grounds.
"We cannot accept any pressure put on us in connection with the publishing of a daily newspaper," said the group's chief Than Htut Aung in an editorial dated Friday.
"If the recently published printing bill by the ministry of information is enacted, the independent news media will surely face similar difficulties," he said, vowing to "categorically oppose this media bill".
The draft printing legislation, which was published in Burmese-language state media on Wednesday, also drew criticism from media freedom campaigners.
"If passed in its current form, the draft law will essentially replace [Myanmar's] old censorship regime with a similarly repressive new one," said Shawn Crispin, the Bangkok-based Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Jornalists.
"Banning news topics and legalising the jailing of journalists is utterly inconsistent with the press freedom guarantees that authorities vowed the new law would promote," Crispin said.
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Writer: AFP and DPA