[JURIST] The Myanmar [BBC profile] legislature [official website] on Tuesday approved a new media law affording greater press freedoms to local media outlets. The law purportedly assures [Bangkok Post report] local media freedom from state censorship [BBC backgrounder] and attempts to promote high-quality journalistic practices by emphasizing ethics and responsibility. However, the law granting new freedoms is accompanied by another law passed the same day that governs publishing licenses. Some critics have expressed concern [Irrawaddy report] that any gains contained within the “Press Law” will be overshadowed by the publishing law, as it gives complete discretion to the Ministry of Information (MOI) to withhold or rescind publishing licenses, leaving the government with substantial control over what media is disseminated and by whom. However, while not considered a sweeping reform, the new law does provide real protections to journalists, such as protecting them from imprisonment, providing a legal avenue to challenge denials of publication licenses by the MOI in the courts, and can seek judicial relief if they are forced from their jobs. The new law also creates a new oversight body, the Independent Press Council, made up of between 15 and 30 members, three of which are to be appointed by the president. The Council will oversee media organizations to promote good journalistic practices and to help journalists deal with legal issues relating to the their work, including adjudicating allegations of ethical violations internally rather than turning such cases over to law enforcement.
Reform [BBC timeline] in Myanmar has taken place slowly in the last three years since the dissolution [BBC report] of the nation’s military government and transition to a civilian regime in 2011. Last April the EU removed [JURIST report] the last of its economic and trade sanctions imposed on Myanmar in response to positive changes and political reforms. Also in that month the government began allowing the publication of privately owned newspapers in the country, for the first time in 50 years. In January of last year the government lifted its 25-year ban on public gatherings of more than five people. In 2012 pre-publication censorship practices were abolished, [BBC backgrounder] and has been scaling back its censorship of online content, removing access restrictions to international news websites, Youtube, and websites containing political content. Starting in 2011 the government began scaling back media controls, restrictions that had been in place since the 1962 military coup that established the military government. Under that administration nearly all forms of media were censored and monitored for criticism of the government, not only news and political sources but cultural media as well such as film and literature. However, even with current reforms much of the available media within the country is still controlled by the state, since it owns most of the reporting and broadcasting outlets.