YANGON--Myanmar's new information minister may allow private daily newspapers in coming months, the government said on Sept. 3, marking the boldest media reform yet and meeting a central demand of advocates for press freedom.
The quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein has liberalized media regulations since taking over from a military junta in March 2011, abolishing direct censorship last month, but private groups are still not allowed to publish daily newspapers.
Information Minister Aung Kyi--who took over from a hardliner in a cabinet reshuffle last week--wants to introduce a new media law soon and set up a press council acceptable to all, said Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut.
"Our minister would like to see private dailies early next year," he told Reuters.
"For the emergence of private dailies, there are two prerequisites--a Media Law acceptable to all and a Press Council representing the journalists. So we are now looking for ways and means so that private dailies can emerge early next year."
There are about 200 private weeklies and four state-owned dailies in Myanmar. The one English-language daily and two others are run by the Ministry of Information, the fourth by the Ministry of Defense. All carry much the same propaganda-laced content.
Thein Myint, managing editor of Eleven Media, a private publishing house, said licenses should be scrapped altogether.
"We do welcome the remarks by the new minister but we think there should not be any license for dailies. It should be free registration. Nobody should be granted special privileges. The competition among the private dailies should be completely free and fair," he said.
The change follows a decision on Aug. 20 to end direct media censorship. Journalists no longer have to submit reports to state censors before publication, ending a practice strictly enforced during nearly half a century of military rule that ended in March last year.
Changes have gathered steam since June last year when the Ministry of Information decided to allow about half of Myanmar's privately run weekly journals and monthly magazines to publish without submitting page proofs to a censorship board in advance.
Over the past year, Myanmar, also known as Burma, has introduced the most sweeping reforms in the former British colony since a 1962 military coup. A government, stacked with former generals, has allowed elections, eased rules on protests and freed dissidents among other changes.
Newspapers have since been testing the boundaries, often putting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on front pages and giving coverage to government critics. Editors say this was unthinkable before the middle of last year.
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