Myanmar, the press, and religion

Today marks the first day of privately run daily newspapers in Myanmar since the 1960s although it’s not completely open yet:

The government lifted censorship in August last year, allowing reporters to print material that would have been unthinkable under military rule.

It’s not smooth sailing yet. The draconian 1962 Printing and Registration Act remains in place until a new media law is enacted. It carries a maximum seven-year prison term for failure to register and allows the government to revoke publishing licenses at any time.

At this point there are only four daily papers, but partially for a good reason–things are moving so fast that it was hard to be prepared:

Distribution, poor infrastructure, outmoded printing equipment and staffing issues are some of the stumbling blocks for media organizations wanting to expand into dailies.

“To be frank, the government granted licenses much earlier than we expected and we were caught by surprise,” said the editor of one private paper, who uses the pseudonym Ko Maung.

Still, this is only a small step:

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Myanmar 151st out of 179 countries in its Press Freedom Index, up 18 places compared to the previous year.

The AP has been allowed to open a bureau in the country, although it’s hard to know how significant that is:

The Information Ministry informed the AP on Saturday it had granted the news agency permission to open a full-fledged office in the main city, Yangon. Japanese broadcaster NHK was also granted permission.

Although the AP has deployed visiting foreign staff regularly to Myanmar since the nation began opening up two years ago, it had previously been prohibited from basing international journalists permanently in the country. Today, there are several dozen journalists working in Myanmar for various international news outlets. Under the previous military regime, China’s Xinhua News Agency and Guangming Daily were the only foreign news outlets allowed to have their nationals as resident correspondents.

sounds good, but:

The opening of AP’s bureau in Myanmar follows by a little more than a year the opening of a bureau providing text stories and photos from Pyongyang, North Korea, which made AP the first Western news organization to operate fully in all media time in the mostly shrouded state.

North Korea isn’t becoming more open, so obviously just allowing a bureau doesn’t show increased press freedom.

In any case, this is another step toward more freedom in the country. That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems:

According to a needs assessment released by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of HumanitarianAffairs (OCHA), over 12,000 people were displaced by the violence in Meiktila and are in shelters around the town.
Since the Meiktila violence, attacks against Muslims have occurred elsewhere in central Burma, including Okpho, Gyobingauk, and Minhla townships of Pegu region. Soldiers reportedly fired warning shots in the air to disperse protesters in Pegu, and an estimated nine townships in Burma are under emergency provisions or curfew, limiting public assembly.
The spread of anti-Islamic sentiment and religious intolerance is a serious challenge to the rights of Muslims in Burma. Some well-known members of the Buddhist monkhood, or Sangha, have given sermons and distributed anti-Muslim tracts and directives that call on Buddhist residents to boycott Muslim businesses and shun contact with Muslim communities.


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