Myanmar has emerged as one of the world’s success stories in recent months after the long-isolated country began to open its doors and push for reform. The march towards modernity and a freer society, however, hasn’t been without its ups and downs. Following the jailing of a journalist for a year for trespassing and disturbing a politician, several newspapers blacked out their front pages in protest.
Media censorship common in Myanmar
Up until recently, the press in Myanmar was heavily censored. Indeed, it took a full 13 months starting in June 2011, right when Myanmar was just launching its aggressive reform agenda, for local censorship to be dismantled. Now, with the lifting of numerous restrictions, the press is enjoying new-found freedoms. Both the press and the government, however, appear to be having some difficulty in operating in this new environment.
Indeed, up until 2011, private press companies were all but outlawed. Now, however, such restrictions have been lifted and Myanmar is now home to a burgeoning local press sector. Despite the government’s lifting of many restrictions, however, Myanmar is still viewed as a restrictive country for press freedom.
For 2013, Reporters Without Borders gives Myanmar (Burma) a ranking of 151 out of 179 countries, a rather poor showing. It should be noted, though, that in 2003 Myanmar was ranked 164 out of 166 ranked countries. So while Myanmar may have a ways to go before it enjoys a truly free press, things are improving.
The government, for example, has never before had to contend with an aggressive press that can question and investigate issues. The old model of using the press as a sort of public relations department simply no longer holds true.
Reporters being throw in jail
Journalist Zaw Pe has been sentenced to one year in jail as was Win Myint Hlaing. Apparently, the two visited the the Magwe Division Education Department with the intent of conducting an interview about a Japanese-funded scholarship program.
Somewhere along the way, they must have gotten on the wrong administrator’s nerves and were arrested. Details so far are not forthcoming. While press conditions have been eased in the country, transparency around such issues still remains low.
Last December Ma Khine was sentenced to three months in jail for allegedly defaming a lawyer and using abusive language when questioning her. Apparently, Ma Khine asked some rather sensitive questions regarding the fees the lawyer was charging and the two then got into an argument.
Regardless, it appears that the institutions, government, and citizens in Myanmar will need to figure out how to adjust to the freer media environment. In the meantime, protecting the rights of journalists will have to remain a priority.