Monday, August 6, 2012

Rangoon journalists press gov’t for freedom of speech

Monday, 06 August 2012 13:10 Mizzima News

The message was: “Stop Killing the Press.”

After the suspension of two newspapers last week, Burmese journalists have staged a walking demonstration in Rangoon in support of freedom of speech and the press.

Wearing black T-shirts with the message ‘STOP KILLING PRESS,’ nearly 100 journalists demonstrated on Saturday, as the government prepares a new media law without the joint cooperation of major journalists groups and leaders.

Journalists walk in a rally in Rangoon on Saturday,  August 4, 2012. The free speech campaign started after two local newspapers were suspended. Journalists are collecting signatures for a letter to be sent to Burmese President Thein Sein and Parliament calling for press freedom in Burma. Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima

The demonstration went off without incident, and one year ago would have been unthinkable for journalists to confront the government in public on freedom of speech and the press.

The journalists, represented by the Myanmar Journalists’ Association (MJA), Myanmar Journalists’ Network (MJN) and Myanmar Journalists’ Union (MJU), released a seven-point statement that was sent to President Thein Sein.

The statement asked the government’s press censorship board to withdraw the bans on two news journals immediately, and asked the government to remove bureaucrats who opposed the reform plans underway in the country.

Last week, The Voice Weekly and Envoy were suspended for failing to submit stories for pre-publication scrutiny, as required by law. A relaxing of some censorship laws during the past year, has led to many newspapers testing the new boundaries.

In June, Tint Swe, the head of the Burmese Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (the censors), told Agency France Presse there “will be no press scrutiny job” by the end of June, also insisting there will “be no monitoring” of local journals and magazines. However, both censorship and monitoring continue.

A petition by the newly formed Press Freedom Committee called for an end to all "oppressive” media laws.

The editor of the Voice Weekly, Kyaw Min Swe, last week said the ban on his publication related to a front-page story on a cabinet reshuffle and cartoons criticizing the current media laws in the country.

A more open climate has seen private weekly news publications publish more detailed stories about government actions, including coverage of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose very name and photograph were taboo less than one year ago.

On Saturday Tint Swe refuted accusations the suspensions were taking a backwards step. “We temporarily suspended the publishing of two journals as they didn't submit some of their stories to the scrutiny board according to the rules,” he said. “We have cooperated with the local journals lately as we didn't want to take any actions against them. It is completely untrue that we are turning back.”

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