Last Friday, after widespread criticism of delays in eliminating its censorship board, the government of Myanmar announced that it was forming an interim council to regulate the press until the new media law is enacted. The 20-member council is comprised of academics, lawyers, and members of the press. Many journalists in Myanmar oppose the council, however, because the government appointed its members without input from the media.
On August 10, The Irrawaddy reported that the government had formed the Myanmar Core Press Council (MCPC). The MCPC will take over the role of regulating the press in Myanmar until the new media law is passed. This comes after criticism that despite Information Minister Kyaw Hsan’s pledge to discontinue Press Scrutiny and Registration Division’s (PSRD) role in monitoring publications, it still acts as a censorship board. The PSRD suspended The Voice Weekly and Envoy at the end of July for failing to submit articles to the board for approval before publication. This led journalists to take to the streets in protest in Rangoon and Mandalay, calling for an end to media censorship.
Though the MCPC has members of the press among its members, many journalists object to the formation of the council. The Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA), who has five seats on the council, objects to some of the duties of the MCPC. The Irrawaddy reports that they asked for the following amendments:
… delete four points—to supervise the work of the press which is deemed detrimental to the public interests, dignity of the state and national sovereignty; to scrutinize imported publications so they conform with the national interest; exercising authority in accordance with the Evidence Act, Penal Code, Code of Civil Procedure and Tort; and MCPC members enjoying immunity from prosecution.
The MJA further asked for revisions to sections of the law, clarifying language and requiring journalist approval of the media law rather than allowing the Ministry of Information to draft the law on its own. The MJA has stated that its members will not participate in the MCPC until the changes are made.
Still, journalists are concerned that the council members are government appointed, rather than elected by members of the press. The Eleven Media Group said in its statement:
Enjoying immunity from criminal or civil prosecution against members of MCPC Council would be tantamount to putting them above the law… Some members of the council have records of breaching journalism ethics. So how could they work for journalism ethics? And some are publishers so there will be conflicts of interest in the future.
They note that many members of the council are former judges in a judicial system with a long history of corruption, so these members are not respected. Veteran journalists have also expressed that the council does not represent the press because they were not elected. The feeling is that members are pro-government and will not act in the interest of free expression for the media.
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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.