Global Journalist

Burma

Proposed bill could be stride backwards for Burmese press freedom

By Ally McEntire

The Burmese Hluttaw, or national level legislature, will review a proposed bill soon addressing press freedom in the country. Journalists said the law doesn’t differ far enough from the previous 1962 act the government used to arrest and persecute reporters.

Chapter three of the Press Law Bill (2013) draft lists various prohibitions that would be placed on journalists if the bill were passed. Those include incitements involving racial and religious hate, threats in attempt to interfere with the law or start riots, immoral sexual content, support of illegal activities such as gambling or drug use, and text that is not supportive of the government or current constitution.

According to Asiancorrespondent.com, journalists have expressed the “suppressive rubber band prescriptions” in the bill that directly hinder press freedom, which has been growing in the nation.

In addition to these “prescriptions” the bill would also require publications to register with the government. Not doing so would risk a maximum punishment of six months in jail and paying a $11,621 fine, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported.

Journalists argue that the new bill is not a far reach from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act. The law also required publications to register with a censorship board and submit copies to them in advance, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

This forced newspapers to only print weekly due to the slow process of prior review. This law was eliminated in January. However, broadcasting rights remain exclusively in the hands of the state. Ye Tint from the Ministry of Information told the Democratic Voice of Burma there was no attempt by the government to censor the media.

“We are mostly specifying fines as punishments – only if one can’t pay the fine, one will have to serve a brief prison term. This law is not as harsh as the 1962 law,” Tint said.

Burma has seen a significant climb in press freedom in the last year, according to Reporters without Borders. Their website outlined the reason for that movement in the rankings.

“Burma (151, +18) continued the ascent begun in last year’s index. Previously, it had been in the bottom 15 every year since 2002 but now, thanks to the Burmese spring’s unprecedented reforms, it has reached its best-ever position.”

This new bill would jeopardize that success and destroy the hard work journalists in Burma have done. The government made promises to include stakeholders in the new press freedom protections, but did not cash in those promises, Irrawaddy said.

Article 19 reviewed specific points in the new bill and said international law is being violated.

“The bill violates international law by requiring press outlets to obtain permission or licenses in order to operate. A government that decides who can run a newspaper, magazine or news website in effect controls the media,” the website said.

Similar stipulations, though, have been used in the U.S. to stop certain speech, even though it is a protected right.

Speech that is intended to incite violence and has a strong likelihood of actually making the violence happen is illegal. Rulings have been made against non-political speech made encouraging illegal drug use and hate speech or demonstrations used to threaten or intimidate is also illegal in the United States.

Other updates from Burma

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