AFTER a much-hyped “spring” of freedom, is democratization slipping back to “winter” in Myanmar?
Journalists and international groups on Monday expressed grave concerns and sharp criticism of a draft Printers and Publishing Enterprise Law (PPEL) that Myanmar’s Ministry of Information recently submitted to Parliament.
And for good reason, according to the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).
A network of independent media organizations in the region that includes the PCIJ, SEAPA said the PPEL bill “ensures government’s continued grip on the print media through licensing controls, which represent a renewal of the old 1962 Printers and Publications Act (PPA).” Moreover, SEAPA averred that the Ministry’s “lack of transparency surrounding the process” points to “a regime still unwilling to embrace media freedom in its fullest sense.”
SEAPA, in its analysis, wrote: “The bill is being introduced by the MOI for the ostensibly benign purpose of establishing rules for conducting such businesses. Apart from the PPEL, bills to regulate the broadcast and online media are also on the agenda of the government.”
The current situation will trigger three problems, however, SEAPA said.
“The first involves the secrecy surrounding the drafting of PPEL drafted by the ministry, which was submitted to Parliament to the surprise of the media community. The old law that was abolished in January this year had been one of the major challenges to the media community and the citizens’ right to know in the past.”
“Reintroducing the law under a pretext of reform will definitely not win the MOI more friends. And to do it without any consultation with the local media community and civil society groups shows the government’s intention of bulldozing back into the political agenda a law to control the media,” it added.
Secondly, “by pushing through this draft law, the MOI seems to be undercutting the Interim Press Council (IPC) it formed in September last year and which was tasked, among others, to work on a draft media law and develop the foundations for a media council.”
It seems like, SEAPA added, “the IPC is merely a diversion for the media community, while the MOI aimed at regulating the foundations of the media industry with continued control of registration of the print, online and broadcasting media.”
The IPC, the Myanmar Journalists Association, and the Myanmar Journalists Network have all issued strong statements rejecting the PPEL. “Clearly,” SEAPA said, “these groups should have been brought into the process and allowed to make their recommendations.”
Last but not least, SEAPA said a third problem that may arise relates to provisions in the draft law, “which will fundamentally contradict and negate the spirit of building a free media and the anticipated openings in the media landscape.”
The PPEL, it noted, “will override any further action to promote a free media by strictly regulating the establishment of private printing and media, and setting limits the contents they can publish.”
SEAPA stressed that “this is in blatant disregard of international and even ASEAN standards on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
“The intent behind the law to maintain a censorship regime is bolstered by recent revelation of a government body established to monitor the publications of local journals,” SEAPA cited,
On Jan. 23, 2013, Myanmar created the Central Supervisory Committee for Registration and Distribution of Printers and Publishers, with representatives of security agencies and regulatory bodies as members. It preempted the draft bill, SEAPA said, “by taking on monitoring functions not yet defined by law.”
The full text of the SEAPA analysis may be read here.