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Censorship of the media in Burma, long derided as a black spot for press freedom, is to be stamped out, according to the government’s most senior political advisor.
Ko Ko Hlaing told Reuters at the weekend that the move would be in line with the Burmese constitution, in which “freedom of expression is guaranteed for every citizen”. As a result, he said, Burma’s “new media law will reflect such a guaranteed freedom of expression, so no censorship,”
Although he is not a policymaker, Ko Ko Hlaing is privy to the inner workings of the government and is thought to have a degree of influence over ministers and the president.
The easing of laws will not be wholesale, however: using somewhat ambiguous language, the advisor said that “some monitoring systems and … legal process[es]” would remain, as would restrictions on freedom of the press when covering “cultural and religious” topics.
Media watchdogs have regularly placed Burma at the tail-end of press freedom indexes given the raft of laws that effectively criminalise independent reporters. Fourteen video journalists working for DVB are currently behind bars, having been found variously guilty of breaching the Electronics Act, the Video Act and Unlawful Associations Act.
But the country has shown signs of easing restrictions, with bans on news websites, including DVB, lifted in June this year. Domestic newspapers and journals have also been allowed to print material that until only a few months ago was deemed strictly off-limits.
Skepticism however remains, with critics pointing to a decision by judges in September to extend DVB reporter Sithu Zeya’s prison sentence by a decade after he was found guilty of breaking laws that ban the transfer of unlicensed footage to exiled media. He is now serving an 18-year sentence.