Government is greatest threat to press freedom in Myanmar: survey

The launch of the new FEM survey in Yangon on May 2, 2018. Photo: Facebook / FEM

A plurality of Myanmar journalists believes that press freedom in the country has declined over the last year, with the government playing the biggest role in restricting journalistic work, a new survey has found.

The survey, conducted by the rights group Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), received responses from nearly 200 professional journalists around the country. Forty-six percent of respondents said they consider media freedom enjoyed by journalists to be low or very low, while 49 percent believe they enjoy less freedom than a year ago.

Sixty-four percent blame the country’s lack of media freedom on the government or on laws. However, unlike in previous years, no single law stands out as the greatest threat. Instead, journalists lay the blame on the entire legal framework. The laws on Electronic Transactions, Official Secrets, Telecommunications, Unlawful Associations, and Media were each identified by between 20 and 10 percent of respondents as the greatest legal threat to press freedom.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said the government has had low or very low success in defending media freedom, with junior-level journalists being especially critical of the government. They recommended that the government welcome more consultations with journalists and aim to get a better understanding of the media situation.

Forty percent of the journalists also expressed a desire to see the courts stay out of their affairs, recommending that the Myanmar Press Council deal with media-related legal matters. Sixty percent rated the council’s performance low or very low.

Fifty-one percent of respondents said violence against journalists had worsened since last year, with women significantly outweighing men in this attitude.

FEM’s report based in the new survey offers several recommendations on how to improve media freedom in Myanmar, including more consultations between government officials and journalists about media freedom, an end to state-controlled media, the removal of all barriers to conflict zones, and restrictions against government officials bringing criminal complaints against journalists. They also call on courts to apply democratic standards to legal cases involving journalists and on fellow journalists to elect defenders of media freedom to the Myanmar Press Council.

Read the full report here.

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