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Information Minister Kyaw Hsan has been forced to postpone the formation of Burma’s new interim press council after being deluged with criticism from media organisations and journalists, according to the Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA).
“We see that some of the members of [the censorship board] were reappointed in the new council and the council’s chairman is not a familiar face in the press industry – so we don’t think this is a satisfactory change,” said Zaw Thet Htway, an editor and member of the Committee for Media Freedom.
The MJA released a statement detailing their grievances with the freshly minted council after meeting with the Information Minister on Sunday.
The 20-member Myanmar Core Press Council (MCPC) was set to replace Burma’s notorious Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) until a permanent press council formed. With the interim council on hold, the PSRD is likely to resume monitoring and regulating the media sector.
“Now that the Core Press Council is [put on hold], censorship will continue to exist but we have to go along with that,” said MJA secretary Pho Yan Naing Linn.
“Unless our demands are met, the MJA representatives will not take part in the Core Press Council or the [permanent] press council.”
Eleven Media Group’s CEO Dr Than Htut Aung placed the blame on an unnamed hardliner within the Ministry of Information for curtailing press freedoms and potentially derailing the country’s democratisation process.
“The reason why there is a conflict between the government and the news media is because of a particular government official who is drafting the press media law and wants to make a U-turn (of democratisation process),” said Than Htut Aung on Eleven’s website.
The formation of the interim press council comes a week after journalists demonstrated in the streets of Rangoon against the suspension of two leading journals and calling for greater media freedom.
In May, the government said the interim council would be operational by June.
Gov’t to allow journalists to review media law
Lower House’s Sports, Culture and Public Relations Development Committee Chairman Thura Aye Myint announced in a press conference last Friday that the new media law would be presented to journalists before being submitted to parliament.
The new legislation, which is being drafted by the Ministry of Information, came under fire from members of the fourth estate, who say they have not been consulted or included in the drafting process.
Ye Htun, a member in the committee, said its chairman has decided to show the draft to media professionals before sending it on to Naypyidaw.
“One person asked us how much progress we’ve made with the media law and the committee’s chairman U Aye Myint answered that as soon as the [committee] gets a ahold of the draft, we will discuss it together and will buy some time for suggestions,” said Ye Htun.
“We [will then] discuss necessary [amendments] with the Bill Committee.”
Thet Zin, news journal editor and spokesperson of the independent Committee for Media Freedom, said media workers should have been responsible for creating the first draft of the bill.
According to the editor, the new committee is planning on boycotting the law if journalists aren’t consulted.
“It should’ve been drafted by media workers themselves and then should be submitted to the government, but it is not acceptable at all to have it the other way around,” said Thet Zin.
-Min Lwin contributed reporting