Signatures in support of the Media Bill drafted by media persons have been collected in Yangon and other towns on August 4, as a part of a campaign to put forward the bill to the Lower House.
The signatures are being collected by media persons. Thura Myo, a reporter who participated in signature collection said that they began the collection in Sule, Tarmway Market and other crowded places at about 11 a.m. on August 4.
Myint Thein, member of Myanmar Journalists Network, said that most of the people who signed in support of the Media Bill are students, businesspersons and politicians.
“When we made an excursion to the Parliament, Thura Shwe Mann the (Lower House) Speaker, told us that we could submit a report if we want to amend or re-draft the media law. After collecting signatures supporting the Media Bill, we will put it forward to the Parliament in order to get a media law that can secure freedom of the media,” he said.
Tin Tun, a businessman from Kamayut Township who signed the petition said, “After we have freedom of the media the Myanmar Press Council, media persons and otherrelevant news media will shoulder responsibilities for false news and take appropriate actions againts such news.”
The signatures were also collected in Taunggyi, Lashio, Magway and some other towns.
There are disagreements between the Myanmar Press Council and the Information Ministry on 17 points in the Media Bill drafted by media persons. On July 24, the Myanmar Press Council, the Information Ministry and the Lower House’s Sports, Culture and Public Relation Development Committee held a tripartite meeting to discuss the Media Bill in the Lower House building, Naypyitaw.
The Myanmar Press Council has already said that they would not give in to the Information Ministry's demand to amend some points in the bill.
There are also conflicts between the Media Bill drafted by media persons and the Printing and the Publishing Enterprise Bill drafted by the Information Ministry. The Minister for Information promised to put forward both bills to the Parliament simultaneously. However, the Lower House approved the Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill drafted by the Information Ministry on July 4, without the amendments suggested by media persons.
The National Democratic Force (NDF) announced on August 4 that their Members of Parliament will discuss and support the Media Bill drafted by the Press Council (Interim) if the bill is brought before the Parliament.
“We cannot ignore the Media because it is one of the pillars of Democracy. It will be sensible to promulgate a law drafted by journalists. This is the reason behind our support”, said Daw Khin Wine Kyi, Upper House MP of NDF.
Starting August 4, the journalists have been collecting public signatures in support of bill. Since, only Union-level officials and organizations can put forward bills in the Parliament, the journalists are preparing to put the bill forward through an MP.
Kyaw Min Swe, the General Secretary of the Press Council wrote on his Facebook page that a Lower House MP and an Upper House MP have already offered to put forward the bill to the Parliament.
The Press Council (Interim) invited 23 political parties to Saturday’s meeting held at the Yuzana Hotel in Yangon seeking suggestions on their plan to put forward the Media Bill in the Parliament.
But major political parties, the NDF, the National League for Democracy and the Union Solidarity and Development Party did not attend the meeting. The statement issued by NDF on August 4 expressed regret for not attending the meeting.
Kyaw Min Swe said, “I do not claim that the bill we have drafted is perfect. It might have weak points, but I can guarantee that we drafted the bill with complete honesty. It is not for our self-interest, and we drafted it as fairly as we can.”
There is a disagreement between the Information Ministry and the Press Council regarding the Information Ministry's insistence to promulgate a separate ‘Internet Law’ for electronic media. The Press Council is of the opinion that every media person has to use electronic devices, so the ‘Internet Law’ for electronic media is unnecessary.
There are four Lower House MPs and one Upper House MP of NDF who support the Media Bill.
Myanmar (Interim) Press Council Secretary Kyaw Min Swe has confirmed that the Press and Publishing draft law was approved by the Lower House—and that the Press Council Members will resign if the Draft Law is officially approved.
The Press Council will appeal to the Upper House and Pyihtaungsu Hluttaw (the bicameral assembly) not to approve the law, since it was drawn up without the input of journalists. If this tactic is unsuccessful, however, the council members say they will resign.
“The draft Press Law would increase media oppression,” said Thiha Saw, a member of the Press Council.
“The media isn’t the fourth pillar if it is under the Legislature, an authoritarian government, and the judiciary. If this law is passed, the fourth pillar of a free media won’t ever happen. That’s why I’m here to complain,” he explained.
The Ministry of Information and members of the Press Council met three times to discuss the Media Draft Law, as the journalists objected to some parts of the Draft Law when it was first publicized.
Kyaw Min Swe said the Minister Aung Kyi let the journalists amend the Draft Law, and also promised that anything the journalists objected to would not be included in the final version of the law.
Kyaw Min Swe explained, however, that most of the journalists' amendments were not included when the Draft Law was submitted to the Lower House for approval.
“The decision from the Lower House will be the final decision,” said Vice-Information Minister Ye Htut. “Some parts of the Ministry of Information’s submission were included in the draft law, and some were not. The same goes for the submission by Press Council. This is usual in legislation, and it is the procedure by which the Hluttaw acts, in accordance with democratic norms.”
The MPs amended 24 points in the Press and Publishing Draft Law after it was submitted to the Lower House by the Ministry of Information. But some journalists say that “even the amended points by the MPs from the Lower House still include points which would probably endanger journalists' rights and the public's media freedom.”
The Press Council was formed in September 2012. The organization wrote a template for the “Press Media and Publishing Draft Law” in the hopes that their suggestion would be adopted by the government.
Retired Judge U Khin Maung Aye is the chairman of the Council, which is composed of journalists and people from social organizations throughout the country.
For more background:
An amended Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill was approved at Fridays’ session of the Lower House of Parliament, according to a report by state-owned newspaper The New Light of Myanmar.
Publishers and others in media say they hope the new bill will offer them a much higher degree of freedom and protection.
“As the fourth pillar, the media play a crucial role in the democratization process. It is necessary to protect the media and their freedoms with relevant laws,” said Thein Nyunt, MP for Thingyangyun Constituency.
“This bill was urgently needed,” said Khaing Maung Yi, the MP for Ahlone Township in western Yangon. “It is essential for the smooth functioning of publishing enterprises. The new law will benefit printers, publishers and the public.”
The Myanmar government began a policy of media reform in June 2011. In December 2012 the government declared that daily newspaper licenses would henceforth be issued, a proclamation that became reality on April 1 this year.
Naypyitaw has also dissolved its notorious censorship bureau, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division.
Under its media reform policy, the government has of July 1 granted licenses to 31 private dailies, nine of which are now in circulation, including the Mizzima Daily.
The seventh session of the Lower House is underway in the capital, Naypyitaw.
It is a new dawn for media in Myanmar—censorship has been lifted; 10 daily newspapers are now being printed, with another 14 on the way; and, reporters are free to write what they please. But the rush to this liberalized market has brought with it a fresh batch of problems for journalists, editors and media company owners.
Lack of finances, human resources, equipment and facilities are key issues that were raised during a debate on the business of media at the second annual Conference on Media Development in Yangon on Tuesday.
“We have the opportunity, we are going to a free press environment,” said Ko Ko, chairman of Yangon Media Group. However, he warned that 70 percent of Myanmar's media face a lack of financing: “most of them are something like a family business: they don’t have a commercial business model”.
While the market is being flooded with print publications for the first time in more than 50 years following decades of military censorship, the audience for media remains small—Myanmar's population is an estimated 60 million, but readership is at less than one percent of that.
“It is a really exciting time, especially for private media,” said Soe Myint, the editor-in-chief of Mizzima. “Now, the largest risk is not political, it's economic.”
Distribution and circulation systems remain traditional, and, with poor infrastructure, many printed publications fail to reach the 75 percent rural population of the country. Competition for advertising and financing remains fierce.
“The capacity to manage [Myanmar’s media] growth may be lacking,” said Michelle Foster, a business media consultant. “The assumption that advertising will always pay the bills is not true.”
Finding staff to work at the numerous institutions sprouting up across the country is also an issue. Myanmar has no journalism school and many young, enthusiastic reporters, raised in a country without a free press, are being hired due to knowledge of English and a basic skill set. They are arriving in newsrooms with no proper management or training systems in place.
"Well-trained journalists are vital to a democracy, but they fail when they don't have a platform or a paycheck,” said Foster, who emphasized capacity building and sustainability within media companies.
The ability to work across media platforms and prepare for the competition of mobile communications within the market must also be addressed, as the government makes moves to increase mobile phone penetration from five percent to 50 percent within three years.
“We are still in the early stage. We need to learn a lot. But we need to understand, that we would not have been here two or three years ago,” said Thet Win, general manager of Shwe Than Lwin, the company behind SkyNet, Myanmar's biggest private TV station, acknowledging that local media “still has a long way to go.”
A draft law threatening to damage progress toward press freedom in Myanmar is being scrutinized by journalists on the country’s newly established press council.
Journalists on the council said the Ministry of Information is listening to concerns about the draft Printers and Publishers Enterprise Law, which caused an outcry in March when the government submitted it to parliament without consulting local media.
“We’ve talked a couple times with officials from the ministry,” Thiha Saw, a member of the press council and deputy chief of the Myanmar Journalists Association, told The Irrawaddy.
The press council is in the process of drafting a separate law to safeguard media freedom in the country. Thiha Saw said the council was in talks with the ministry to make sure that the two bills did not “overlap or conflict with” each other. He added that the government had pledged to amend the bill, diluting the ministry’s power to grant and revoke publication licenses.
If passed into statute in its current state, the draft printers and publishers bill would allow the Ministry of Information to revoke or terminate publication licenses for “disturbing the rule of law,” “inciting unrest” or “violating the Constitution.”
This is seen as a return to media censorship by some. “We say registration should not be controlled by the Ministry of Information. They will change that—they have promised to change that,” said Thiha Saw.
Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative at the US-based press watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists, criticized the Myanmar government’s decision to send its printers and publishers bill to parliament without consulting journalists.
“The fact that the Ministry of Information was drafting this law, pretty much in the dark without the knowledge of local press groups, shows there is still resistance at the ministry to these liberalizing reforms,” he said.
He added that the draft law includes censorship guidelines that use “the same vague language of the old laws”.
“Journalists are not allowed to write against the Constitution or present news that could incite violence, and these are very vague terms that have been used and abused in an arbitrary fashion in the past,” he said.
But Ye Htut, Myanmar’s deputy minister of information told The Irrawaddy: “The draft bill is not about journalists or the press. It’s about registering printing presses and publishers. It’s to prevent hate speech, pornography and [to protect] public safety.”
Meanwhile, the Myanmar government awarded licenses to 10 more private daily newspapers earlier this week. The new titles include National Time Daily, Daily Eleven News, Myanma Freedom Daily, The Nagani Daily, Dana Business Daily, Warazein Daily, Newswatch Daily, The Pyi Myanmar Daily, Myanmar Post Daily and the International Herald Tribune, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
Private daily newspapers started publishing in Myanmar last month after a 45-year ban. The old rules meant private titles could only publish once a week. But 16 weekly news journals were permitted to become dailies on April 1.
Friday May 3 is World Press Freedom day. To mark the day, a report by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) urged Myanmar to consolidate the gains that it had made toward boosting media freedom.
It warned that the draft printers and publishers bill “is a threatening indicator of the direction of that the Myanmar government is taking”. “The government still seems bent to retain control of the press and right to freedom of opinion and expression,” the report said.
A separate Seapa report on press freedom in Thailand said the Thai media is struggling with ethical issues, political polarization and the constraints of the lese majeste law.
“The Thai media continues its soul-searching for the correct balance between ethical responsibility and freedom of speech, which is currently being exercised over the political stream with no solution or remedy to the political divide,” the report claimed.
“While the print media revisits the effectiveness of its self regulatory regime, the broadcast sector is also searching for the right framework to regulate the booming digital broadcast industry which could see an unprecedented volume of new content to feed the increased number of television channels.”