Journalists slam Public Service Media Law

A copy of state mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar. (Reuters)

Members of Burma’s media community on Saturday criticised a proposed law, intended to separate state media from political influence, as “inappropriate” during a government-organised meeting in the Naypyidaw.

Drafted by the Ministry of Information, the Public Service Media Law was submitted to the parliament in March and is slated for discussion during the current session. While its original intent was to ensure that independent news organisations receive public funding, the bill is centered on state broadcasters and publications, such as the Mirror and the New Light of Myanmar – widely acknowledged as government mouthpieces.

This raises concerns within Burma’s community of journalists and representatives from the Interim Press Council (IPC), who gathered on Saturday at a meeting organised by the parliament’s Sports, Culture and Public Relations Development Committee.

Zaw Thet Htwe, an editor and IPC member, said that he told the meeting’s attendants that turning a state-run news agency into a public service outlet that purports a semblance of independence is misleading.

“The bill transforms state-run newspapers and broadcasting channels into a public service media, which we find inappropriate,” he said to DVB after the meeting. “We also pointed out there is only public broadcasting service in other countries, but no such thing as public service newspapers, so this would be a waste of public funding to run the newspaper.”

Using state money for “government propaganda” – when the bill’s original objective was to do otherwise – was a typical move from the government, said Pho Thaukkya, a veteran journalist and news editor.

“I feel that the government is pulling the same tactic, such as when they drafted and approved the Constitution on their own accord, with other various bills and legislations,” Pho Thaukkya said.

While the Burmese government has initiated a series of press reforms since June 2011, the past six months have seen at least six members of the media arrested – including DVB video journalist Zaw Pe who was sentenced to one year in April for the crimes of “trespassing” and “disturbing a civil servant on duty” as he attempted to report on a story about a Japanese-funded scholarship programme.

By TUN TUN THEIN (DVB)

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