A workshop held by the Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN) has recommended a comprehensive list of professional criteria to the Burmese government regarding the formation of a Burmese Press Council and the establishment of freedom of the press.
Last week, Mizzima reported that the activities of the newly formed government-backed Myanmar Core Press Council had been halted to allow for negotiations with the media. Burma has three professional-based journalists groups: Myanmar Journalists Association, the Myanmar Journalist Network and the Myanmar Journalist Union.
The MJN said that the powers given to the government-created press council threatened freedom of the press and continued government control of the media.
The professional journalists’ group has asked that six of the council’s provisions be amended or cancelled. Meanwhile, a new Burmese media law is working its way through the Parliament, but so far no draft version of the law has been made public.
A MJN list of points considered essential to the formation of a press council and to freedom of the press in Burma include:
1. Right to gather information and report on facts of government and governmental departments that need to be known by the public except official secrets.
2. No censorship in news reporting (including photos, cameras and documents). The news writer shall take responsibility for his/her news reporting.
3. Freedom of association in journalistic community and freedom in membership of these associations.
4. In case of any dispute arising out of news reporting, editor and publisher shall also have responsibility along with the reporter.
5. In filing case against news reporting with no criminal intention or motive, only civil suits shall be filed against such news reporting.
6. Repeal all repressive laws that obstruct the media freedom, including
(a) 1962 Printers and Publishers Law
(b) 2003 Electronic Law
(c) Section 124(a) of Penal Code, sedition law
(d) Provisions under section 5 of 1950 Emergency Provisions Act which restrict the media freedom
7. Freelance reporters and staff reporters shall have equal rights in news reporting.
8. All legal restrictions on news reporting and media shall have the precise and accurate words and provisions. (shall not have vague and general words which can lead to sweeping interpretations)
9. Media Law shall have a provision calling for respect of the role and duty of journalists by authorities and administrative officials
10. Absolutely protection for right to free speech
11. Media Law shall have an explicit provision guaranteeing the right to use anonymous sources
12. The text of Media Law shall accurately reflect the objective of the said law.
13. To replace the wording in provision of article 354(a) of the 2008 constitution having the clause ‘if not contrary to the law’ (without repugnance to the law) with more precise and accurate clause.
14. To enact the Media Law with precise provisions which says executive branch shall not have the right to take action and judge cases filed against the media before the judicial branch exercises its power.
15. To provide security cover to journalists in covering the news in conflict areas and allow full freedom in reporting such news.
16. To include precise provision in Media Law saying there shall have no right to form any institution which has the nature of press censorship or press scrutiny.
17. No restrictions on news reporting and covering by executive branch by issuing special orders.
18. No action taken against journalists on ground for contacting unlawful associations in their news coverage and reporting.
19. No qualifications and requirements for reporters
20. No pressure on journalists to join any association against their will
21. Not to enact laws empowering arrest and imprison of journalists for their news reporting and covering.
22. Repeal all laws, notifications and orders that are contrary with Media Law after enacting the law.
23. Form the press council and elect the office bearers of this council only by the consent of the majority of journalists without intervention by the government. The press council shall have the freedom in prescribing terms of reference of this council.
24. To enact a simple and clear registration procedure.
25. To abolish the current publishing license system.
26. To prescribe the maximum limit of foreign investment in media business.
27. To restrict the ownership type and number in news and periodicals publishing license
28. To provide assistance to local media in the country (for instance, states and regions)
29. To prescribe upper limits in civil suits of suit for damages in defamation cases.
30. To prescribe time limitation on filing defamation cases against news reporting that has been published (for instance, within three months)
31. Every citizen shall have the right to conduct media business
32. To provide more tax holidays to media business than other businesses
33. No restrictions on resources (money, human resource, term) in publishing daily papers
34. No intervention by authorities in structure of newspaper on any ground and reason