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World Press Freedom Day was celebrated in Burma for the first time yesterday.
An event to mark the day was jointly held by the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the Ministry of Information at the Strand Hotel in Rangoon.
Renowned journalist Maung Wuntha said the government’s participation in the event was a sign that the media environment within the country was improving.
“[Press Freedom Day] has been marked across the world, but this is the first occasion for Burma to celebrate it, after President Thein Sein’s government came to power,” said Maung Wuntha.
“This shows that the government has an interest in media freedom and that [the freedom] actually exists now.”
The Organising Committee for the Myanmar [Burma] Journalists’ Association also held an event to commemorate the day at the Central Hotel in Rangoon, while writers and journalists in Mandalay organized a forum to discuss the media’s role in society.
“The media came under a lot of oppression in the past 60 years and had been struggling to escape from the [government’s] control,” said Min Htet Nyein Chan, a journalist and organiser of the event.
World Press Freedom Day was adopted and first celebrated in 1991 by the UN.
According to a 2012 report by the watchdog group Freedom House, media freedom in Burma has modestly improved in 2012, but was still far from being commendable.
The former pariah state was ranked 187th of the 197 countries surveyed for the annual assessment by the US-based activist group.
“Positive developments included the release of imprisoned bloggers, a softening of official censorship, fewer reports of harassment and attacks against journalists, and an increase in the number of private media outlets, which led to somewhat more diversity of content and less self-censorship,” said the report.
“In addition, a number of exiled journalists were able to return to the country.”
Burma now ranks third to last in the Asia-Pacific region alongside China, ahead only of the notoriously repressive North Korea.