Cloudy with a chance of lawsuits? That seemed to be the prediction from Myanmar’s Meteorology and Hydrology Department this week when they spoke to the BBC’s Burmese-language arm.
In an interview published yesterday, the department’s chief, U Kyaw Moe, said they would take legal action against Facebook users that spread false news about the weather that “causes public alarm.”
“There is no law in this country that concerns the weather, so we’re drafting it. We are enlisting help from European experts to draft the law. Right now, we have drafted an English version of the law. We don’t have a draft in Burmese. We will have a part that tackles fake news that causes public alarm,” the minister told the outlet.
The announcement comes just months after a scare in May when news that a cyclone would enter Myanmar in three days was posted with an accompanying satellite image of Cyclone Nargis from 2008.
In an interview with Coconuts Yangon today, U Hla Tun, the department’s deputy director, expanded on the new legislation, saying that the law – intended to establish the department as the country’s “official voice” for weather predictions and news – involved far more than a simple crackdown on fake weather news.
According to Hla Tun, the law will also stipulate penalties for those who hamper the ministry’s work in data collection, particularly in rural areas where he said citizens have interfered with their measuring devices and, in some cases, stolen equipment.
“For example, some people have destroyed measuring devices. When we measure water levels, some boats and ships move them so that they can park by the riverbanks,” he said.
“We have also lost some equipment in rural areas. If they continue to do so, we have to take action. There is no law under the current department to take action against this.”
The new proposal will be drafted in cooperation with the World Bank and submitted for consideration in 2020, Kyaw Moe U told BBC Burmese.
While the law might appear relatively benign, Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law has a troubling history, with critics saying it has been used to target journalists, activists and civil society leaders, in order to take action against those that “cause public alarm.”
When asked if there was potential for the new law to be abused in that manner, Hla Tun told Coconuts Yangon that weather and politics have nothing to do with each other.
“We are only trying to convey the correct information to the people. We should take action against those that are spreading fake information online, but only about the weather under this law.”