Myanmar journalists express demand for reform of press and media laws

Myanmar journalists are calling for fewer restrictions on freedom of expression, according to a recent survey conducted by ARTICLE 19 and the Myanmar Working Group for Freedom of Expression.

ARTICLE 19 is a UK-based human rights organization focused on the defense and promotion of freedom of information and expression worldwide.

“The annual survey of Myanmar journalists’ opinions reveals that they think freedom of expression has actually decreased since last year,” said Oliver Spencer, Head of Asia at ARTICLE 19.

Freedom of expression, freedom of information, and media freedom were at the top of journalists’ priorities when it came to calling for legal reform.

Other concerns included a reform of the country’s British-era Penal Code, especially in regards to criminal defamation and insults to religion.

When asked to rate the Myanmar Press Council’s efforts to defend the media’s freedom of expression, only half of participants felt the Council had been successful in its mission.

The newly enacted Telecommunications Law was also another point of concern among journalists.

Since its creation, a number of individuals and organizations, including journalists, have been prosecuted and imprisoned under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law.

“The survey shows a clear and growing desire for reform of the country’s legal framework to guarantee free expression,” Spencer added.

The survey also asked journalists the extent to which they felt free to report on ethnic conflicts within the country. An overwhelming majority of participants replied that they didn’t feel free to report on such topics.

The Myanmar Times recently fired one of their reporters for publishing a report on allegations of rape committed by security forces in Rakhine State.

“Perhaps as Myanmar transitions to democracy, journalists are becoming more aware of their rights. Their expectations may also have increased, given that Myanmar now has a democratically-elected government,” said Spencer.

The independent monitoring group Freedom House’s 2016 annual index categorized Myanmar as “not free” when it came to internet freedom.

Journalists have called for Aung San Suu Kyi to speak up about restrictions on freedom of expression imposed by the National League for Democracy (NLD). For many, the current media environment and the growing list of arrests under the Telecommunications Law are reminiscent of the era of government censorship under the former ruling military junta.

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