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News publications in Burma have welcomed a minor relaxing of regulations by the country’s censor board which will see them no longer having to allocate a page for government propaganda articles.
Magazines, journals and newspapers have long been required to republish text from state-run outlets such as the New Light of Myanmar newspaper. Revised rules now state however that only on occasion will reprints be necessary.
“This is good, we welcome it,” said one Rangoon-based journal editor, who spoke to DVB on condition of anonymity. “Before we had to republish the articles given by the censor board on one page; now we have one more page to publish our own choice of content.”
But the move comes less than a fortnight after a wave of new rules were enacted by the censor board that journalists said were “unprecedented” in their severity. The regulations will implement uniform restrictions across media outlets, meaning that some newspapers and journals which had been able to operate comparatively freely will now be tightly controlled.
The Burmese junta resides over one of the world’s strictest media environments, and consistently ranks at the tail-end press freedom indexes. All material is required to pass through the censor board, known as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), prior to being published.
The PSRD is overseen by the government’s information ministry and is considered very much a wing of the military regime, which has ruled Burma in various guises since a coup in 1962.
“It is unclear why [the censor board] does not require us to publish the [government] articles anymore but we are very grateful for this,” said another editor. “In the publication, even a 2×2 inch column space has a lot of value. Now [the censor board] is giving us back the one page they previously dominated previously by force.”
Some journalists speculated that the new procedure could signal a realisation by the government that propaganda in the journals does not work. Alternaitvely, it could be due to criticism of the draconian regulations by the censor board.
Others however are sceptical about the shift, which may eventually turn out to be a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ scenario. It comes as the country gears up for its first elections in two decades, and the government was expected to clamp down on media as the polls approached.
The Rangoon editor said that his journal “wants [its] audience to know the facts about these parties [running for elections]. It is the audience’s opinion to decide whether a party is good or bad. We want to suggest that it would be better if the information we report is not being censored.”
Last year the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Burma 171 out of 175 on its annual Press Freedom Index, above Cuba, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Eritrea.