Media Laws ‘Unnecessarily Controlling’ says IFJ

An international organisation representing journalists worldwide said it welcomed the passing of Burma’s first press laws, but raised concerns over elements of the legislation as being “unnecessarily controlling.”

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), called on President Thein Sein’s government to “continue its dialogue with journalists” in order to “develop a free and robust media” in Burma.

The statement comes after Burma’s assembly passed two new media laws, the Media Bill and the Printer’s and Publishers Registration Bill, on March 4 – Burma’s President, Thein Sein, now only needs to sign off on the laws for them to come into effect.

The IFJ, the world’s largest organisation of journalists, represents an estimated 600.000 members in more than 100 countries. The IFJ website states that its aim is to promote “international action to defend press freedom and social justice through strong, free and independent trade unions of journalists.”

Since 2011 Burma’s quasi-civilian government has relaxed media controls, mostly tolerating the dozens of new local media organizations that have sprung up.

The IFJ praised Burma’s government for making progress on media freedom by passing the Media bill. “These new laws effectively replace the draconian Printers and Publishers Registration Law of 1962,” the IFJ said, “Implementing such a dramatic change for Myanmar’s media environment is a victory in itself. We commend the hard work and perseverance of Myanmar’s journalists over recent years to ensure media freedoms are protected and respected as part of the ongoing dialogue now happening between the Thein Sein government and the country’s media.”

The IFJ, raised concerns over the second bill, the Printer’s and Publishers Registration Bill, which they said passed without the consultation of the country’s journalists.

“The Ministry of Information’s bill includes sanctions for undermining security or disturbing tranquility, with publications open to fines and also suspension. It also requires all media enterprises to register with the government.” The IFJ said, adding, “The Media Law sets out a code and establishes a complaints system. Breaches of rules can lead to fines for individuals and the legislation also includes criminal measures for ‘incitement to hatred’.”

The IFJ statement noted that in Burma’s changing “media landscape” the pressures now experienced by journalists had changed.

“With the censorship board now gone, we have witnessed rise in defamation actions against journalists and the fear is that journalists may turn to self-censorship if they feel they are not adequately protected.”

Burma’s government has recently shown an willingness to imprison journalists.

In early January the Eleven Media Group reporter, Khine Khine Aye Cho, was handed a three-month prison sentence after being charged with ‘defamation, trespass and use of abusive language,’ leading to a rally by journalists urging her release.

Then later that month and over the course of three days – January 31 to Febuary 2 – the government arrested five Unity Journal reporters after a report alleged that the government had established a chemical weapons facility in Pauk Township – the journalists were charged with violating Burma’s 1923 State Secrets Act.

IFJ said Burma’s Ministry of Information is currently in the process of writing additional draft laws for the media, including regulations for broadcasting, film, and the use of libraries.

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