RANGOON — A stand-off between the Burma government and local journalists over proposed media laws looks set to continue, with Burma’s Upper House continuing to mull a controversial publishing bill that would give the Ministry of Information broad powers to issue and revoke publishing licenses.
Information Minister Aung Kyi met with members of Burma’s interim Press Council, a journalists’ organization, in Rangoon on Monday morning, but according to Myint Kyaw, a journalist and council member, there was no discussion of the terms of the Printers and Publishers Registration Bill, or of the council’s own draft press law.
“We just agreed to continuing discussions but otherwise there were no details discussed,” he told The Irrawaddy.
The meeting, which finished early, ended with a proposal by the ministry that the Press Council discuss the ministry’s proposed “social responsibility” code for the country’s media—terminology redolent of restrictive press regimes elsewhere in Southeast Asia in recent decades.
“We explained this [social responsibility] to the interim Press Council and we will await their views,” Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy. Myint Kyaw told The Irrawaddy that the council would meet soon to discuss the social responsibility concept.
Asked whether Burma’s government had examined media laws in other countries, such as Malaysia, where publications have been subject to similar licensing provisions as those proposed for Burma, Aung Kyi told The Irrawaddy that “we have looked at examples such as France and India.” The most important criteria in drafting the law, the Minister added, were not external examples, but “our own customs and needs.”
Press Council members, on Monday clad in white T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Give freedom to Media Law for the People to get truth,” have said they will resign if the Printers and Publishers Registration Bill is passed into law as it stands. The council wants publishing licenses to be regulated under commercial rather than media laws.
“We welcome that there is difference of opinion over these laws,” Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy. “It is normal in a democratic society.”
The bill is currently being discussed by the Upper House of Burma’s Parliament. It was passed by the Lower House on July 4. “We gave our feedback to the Upper House on July 24,” said Myint Kyaw. “We hope they will make some changes to the bill before passing it.”
The draft legislation contains vague language banning criticism of Burma’s 2008 Constitution, as well as the prospect of publishing licenses being withheld or revoked by the Ministry of Information.
Ye Htut said the Printers and Publishers Registration Bill could be sent back to the Lower House for further consideration. “We cannot say what will happen,” he told The Irrawaddy. “It came from the Lower House so perhaps the Upper House will make changes and send it back.”
The Press Council is preparing to send its own press law to Parliament for consideration, Myint Kyaw said. The Ministry of Information had previously sought amendments to the council’s draft, but the council has rebuffed those suggestions.
“We decided to put to Parliament through an MP, not from USDP [the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party], not from NLD [opposition National League for Democracy],” Myint Kyaw told The Irrawaddy. “But through the New National Democratic Party and MP Thein Nyunt,” he said.
The Press Council will meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday to discuss the various media codes. The council’s own draft is intended as a professional code for journalists, while the government contends that the Printers and Publishers Registration Bill is an enterprise-related law. Media watchdogs have criticized the latter bill, however, for alleged mission creep, saying that it strays into content regulation.Show