YANGON: Myanmar’s government said today it was abolishing the harsh practice of directly censoring the country’s media, the most dramatic move yet towards allowing freedom of expression in the long-repressed nation.
Under the new rules, journalists will no longer have to submit their work to state censors before publication as they did for almost half a century. However, deep concerns remain about restrictive press laws remaining on the books, which give the government great power to crack down on journalists and even close publications deemed a threat to national security.
This Southeast Asian nation’s reporters had long been regarded as among the most restricted in the world. But President Thein Sein’s reformist government has significantly relaxed media controls over the last year, allowing reporters to print material that would have been unthinkable during the era of absolute military rule — like photographs of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Information Ministry, which has long controlled what can be printed, made the announcement on its website today. The head of the ministry’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department, Tint Swe, also conveyed the news to a group of editors in the country’s main city Yangon.
Tint Swe had also previously said the censor board itself would be abolished when censorship ends. But today’s announcement indicated the board will remain in place, and it will retain the powers it has always had to suspend publications or revoking publishing licences if they deem publishing rules are violated.
Nyein Nyein Naing, an editor from the Seven Day News Journal who attended today’s meeting, said journalists will still have to submit their articles to the censor board. But now, she said, they will be required to do so after publication, apparently to allow the government to determine whether any publishing laws are violated.
It was not immediately clear to what degree continued government scrutiny could lead to self-censorship.