Myanmar said it had abolished media censorship yesterday in the latest in a series of rapid democratic reforms, delighting journalists who lived for decades under the shadow of the censors’ marker pen.
Draconian checks before publication — applied in the past to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales — were a hallmark of life under the generals who ran the country for almost half a century, until last year.
“This is a great day for all journalists in Myanmar, who have labored under these odious restrictions for far too many years,” said a senior editor at a Yangon weekly publication who preferred not to be named.
“It is also another encouraging example of the progress that the country is making under [Burmese President] Thein Sein’s government,” he added.
Media reforms have already brought a lighter touch from the once ubiquitous censors, with less controversial publications freed from scrutiny last year.
Political and religious journals were the last to be allowed to go to press without pre-approval from the censors, starting from yesterday.
“For now on, local publications do not need to send their stories to the censorship board,” said Tint Swe, head of the government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department.
“Censorship began on Aug. 6, 1964 and ended 48 years and two weeks later,” the former army officer told reporters by telephone from the capital, Naypyidaw.
One exception is film censorship, which remains in place, a Ministry of Information official said. Television journalists, for their part, “self censor” by asking for instructions about sensitive news, he added.
Since taking office last year, former general Thein Sein has overseen a number of dramatic changes, such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
Reporters jailed under the junta have also been freed from long prison sentences, and the decision to abolish censorship was greeted with sighs of relief in newsrooms around the main city, Yangon.
“As a journalist, I’m glad that we don’t need to send our stories to the scrutiny board,” 7 Day News journal executive editor Nyein Nyein Naing told media.
“We have worried for many years and it’s ended today,” she said, but said that the media could still get into trouble after publication if their content is deemed by the authorities to undermine the stability of the state.
A more open climate has already seen private weekly news journals publish an increasingly bold range of stories, most notably about opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose very name was taboo in the past.
However, both the media and the authorities are still adjusting to the new era of openness.
Two journals were recently suspended for two weeks for prematurely printing stories without prior approval from the censors, prompting dozens of journalists to take to the streets in protest.
Also, the Ministry of Mines is suing a weekly publication that reported that the auditor-general’s office had discovered misappropriations of funds and fraud at the government division.
Earlier this month the authorities announced the creation of a Core Press Council that includes journalists, a former supreme court judge and retired academics to study media ethics and settle press disputes.