Myanmar eases controls on dozens of publications

BABY STEPS::One official said prior to the introduction of a new media law, news, education and religious titles would adopt a ‘self-censorship’ system, media reported

AFP, BANGKOK

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - Page 4

Myanmar has loosened restrictions on dozens of business and crime publications, local media reported yesterday, but kept news titles in the grip of strict censorship rules.

A total of 54 journals, magazines and books will no longer have to submit their content to censors before publication, according to a report in the Myanmar Times, after changes introduced on Friday.

News media will continue to be subject to pre-publication censorship that is criticized by press freedom groups as among the most restrictive in the world, although officials told the newspaper that this would ease over time.

Myanmar’s army-dominated government, which came to power after a controversial election in November last year, has launched a series of reformist moves in an apparent move to end its international isolation, and welcomed a landmark visit from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this month.

Measures have included dialogue with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, whose picture is now permitted to be printed in the media.

Publishers were told in June that sports journals, entertainment magazines, fairytales and the winning lottery numbers would not require prior approval from the Burmese Ministry of Information.

According to the Myanmar Times, Tint Swe from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department said that news, education and religious titles would also shift to “self-censorship” before a new media law is enacted — without giving a timeframe or details of the legislation.

An executive editor from 7Day News Journal told the Myanmar Times that he was disappointed that the changes had not gone further, but welcomed the relaxation on business publications.

“As our country is implementing economic reforms, it is crucial that we have the freedom to write and criticize freely,” he said.

A report in the state-run New Light of Myanmar yesterday said that Burmese Minister for Information and Culture Kyaw Hsan had suggested film and video censorship would also be relaxed, without indicating when this would happen.

In September, Myanmar’s Internet users were able to see banned media Web sites for the first time, including the BBC and exiled media organizations such as the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).

However, the move, which was not officially announced, came in the same week that a court added an extra decade to the sentence of a journalist jailed over his work for DVB. He now faces 18 years in prison.