A group of journalists from independent journalists associations read a statement demanding the withdrawal of the draft law on printing and publication. The law was drafted by the government to replace the draconian publishing act commonly used to silence dissent under the military junta.
Former political prisoner and journalist Zaw Thet Htwe, says it will be used by the government to regain control over the media.
“We were in communication with the Information Ministry. But they proposed the new media law to Parliament without consulting us.
Parliament has already accepted the draft so it’s impossible to abolish it. Today we journalists are demanding some parts of the law be omitted. We will send a message to the President and Parliament.”
The new draft law prohibits the publication of articles that could “disturb the rule of law, incite unrest, or violate the constitution”. It also requires all publications to register with the government or risk 6 months in jail and a fine of nearly 12,000 US dollars.Famous political activist,
Ko Pyone Cho is campaigning against the draft.
“We will be in trouble because the draft law says critics of the Constitution will be banned. If we are going to become a democratic society, sometimes we have to criticize the Constitution when necessary. If they don’t allow us to publish using printing machines, we will be forced to publish hand-written articles.”
Journalists say that they will only accept the new media law drafted by Burma’s Press Council. Council's senior member Phay Myint says the government’s draft law is the first step in silencing journalists.
“With the proposed law, registration officials have the right to judge a publication before granting a license. This should be the work of a court, not a government official. Law experts should see this as a violation of the Constitution. So we can say that the draft law goes agaist the Constitution.”
Burma lost its press freedom under the military junta. The junta used the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act to silence dissent. It required all publications to register with, and submit copies to, the censorship board.
But after heavy criticism, the government is holding off its decision to introduce the law.
Phay Myint says that if Burma is to become a genuine democracy, it needs a free press. “The 1962 Media Law is terrible. We couldn’t write what we wanted to," he says.
"The current draft law seems a bit softer, but it potentially has more restrictions than the current law. We don’t want any more laws to opress the media.”