Last week, two weekly publications in Myanmar (Burma), The Voice Weekly and Envoy, were suspended indefinitely for violations of the country’s regulations on news media. The suspensions came as new media laws are drafted that officials claim will lift past censorship regulations. After protests from journalists and gestures of solidarity from other publications in Myanmar, authorities decided to lift the suspensions after two weeks.
On July 31, Myanmar’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) announced that it was suspending The Voice Weekly and Envoy. While reasons for the suspension were initially unspecified, Voice Weekly editor Kyaw Min Swe thought that the reason for the suspension stemmed from two front-page stories his publication ran, one on the rumored reshuffling of cabinet members and the other on an exhibition featuring photos of censored cartoons. The PSRD later announced that the suspensions were necessary because the publications violated 2011 Order No. 44, which states that articles must be submitted for approval prior to publication. This is seen as a direct opposition to PSRD head Tint Swe’s declaration in June that local journals and magazines would no longer be monitored. He denied claims that the suspensions were a step back from the government’s move to ease restrictions on the press.
Journalists in Myanmar decided to take action, forming the Committee for Freedom of the Press. Wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Stop Killing Press,” they rallied on Saturday to collect signatures for a petition calling for the end of media censorship. Some of the demands included ending the suspensions of The Voice Weekly and Envoy and drafting new media laws with the help of journalism consultants. The PSRD declared that news of Saturday’s rally was not fit for publication. In a show of solidarity, The Venus News weekly ran an article about the rally. Three other publications — The Messenger, Express Time, and The Nation — ran issues with part of their front pages blacked out.
On Monday, the government informed editors at The Voice Weekly and Envoy that they will be able to resume publishing on August 18. Ye Htut, director-general of the Ministry of Information’s information and public relations department, stated that the government is doing its best to allow the press as much freedom as possible under current laws, adding that restrictions will ease further once the new media laws are passed.
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Soyini A. Hamit is a scientist by training, a comic fan, and a writer. You can follow her fascination with language and music at soyinianika.com.