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Burma’s parliament has agreed to amend parts of a controversial new publishing bill, which critics say is being used to re-introduce censorship in the former military dictatorship.
The law will obligate all media enterprises to register with the government or risk legal penalties, and has been compared to the draconian, junta-era legislation it is set to replace.
But on Monday the lower house of parliament agreed to abolish prison sentences and reduce financial penalties for those found to be printing or publishing without registration.
An earlier draft imposed a possible six month jail term and 10 million kyat (US$11,621) fine for media groups operating without a licence.
Ye Htun, a representative in the lower house told DVB that article 20 of the Printing and Publication Enterprise Bill now issued a maximum penalty of 300,000 kyat (US$308).
“Imposing a fine of 50 million to 100 million kyat may harm small time local printing and publication businesses that usually run with just one copier,” said Ye Htun. “So the [lower house] has amended the article to only impose fines from 100,000 to 300,000 kyat as a warning to [those printing or publishing without registration].”
Another controversial element of the bill, which had prohibited criticisms of Burma’s 2008 military-drafted constitution, was also removed. However, the law still bans the publication of material that “insults” religion, expresses nudity, undermines the “rule of law” or harms ethnic unity.
The lower house’s Sports, Culture and Public Relations Committee and the Bill Committee participated in discussions of the bill on 11 November. It has already been discussed in both the lower house and the upper house of parliament and is now set for debate in the bicameral legislature before being signed into law.
Ye Htun said that both the house of parliament agreed on the “important” clauses in the bill, although there were still several disagreements on smaller issues, which would be hashed out at the union parliament.
“We even removed the clause concerned with personal attacks aimed at discrediting an individual,” said Ye Htun, referring to a new section that had been introduced by the upper house.
The Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill was drafted by the Ministry of Information earlier this year and is one of several media laws currently being introduced in the country.
Earlier this month, Burma passed a new media bill, drafted by the Interim Press Council, which outlines the legal framework for the country’s nascent fourth estate.