Reporters Without Borders is today releasing a report entitled “The Burmese Spring” about the rapid progress that freedom of information has made in Burma, but also about the limits of this progress and the dangers it faces.
The international community is witnessing an unprecedented democratic transition in this Southeast Asian country after half a century of military dictatorship. But, as things stand, the possibility of the reforms being perverted cannot be ruled out.
For 25 years, Reporters Without Borders was on a blacklist that prevented it from visiting Burma. Imprisoned journalists such as Win Tin, one of the symbols of the fight for freedom of information, and Democratic Voice of Burma’s video-journalists could only be supported from a distance during this period.
Reporters Without Borders was finally taken off the blacklist on 28 August 2012, allowing it to visit Burma and observe the initial results of government reforms easing restrictions on the media.
“There has been historic progress for the media and the ground covered by the government has been striking, as evidenced in the recently announced revision of the repressive laws affecting the print media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The release of imprisoned journalists and the end of prior censorship represent the start of a new era for Burma’s journalists.
“The information ministry’s announcement on 28 December that the publication of privately-owned dailies will be permitted from next April is evidence of a commitment to pursue the reforms. But we are now waiting for these promises, especially the creation of independent dailies, to be realized.”
Although censorship has been lifted, the censorship bureau, called the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), has still not been disbanded and still wields a great deal of repressive power because it can still suspend any weekly that publishes “forbidden” content.
In the absence of a law providing the media with effective protection, there is a real danger of journalists censoring themselves after decades of government censorship. Officials have not shed their repressive tendencies, as witnessed by the many legal proceedings against privately-owned weeklies in 2012.
The report draws attention to the dangers of media sector transformation without an appropriate legal framework, to the specific problems of exile media that have returned to Burma, and to the lack of adequate media coverage of the humanitarian crisis in the western province of Arakan.
Reporters Without Borders calls on the Burmese government to curb lawsuits against the media and to support the rapid repeal of repressive laws and adoption of a media law that respects freedom of information.
It encourages the Burmese media to increase their interaction with the various journalists’ associations and unions in order to revitalize the media sector and defend its interests.
And finally, Reporters Without Borders urges the international community to condition its assistance on respect for fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of information.
Cover © James MacKay / Enigma Images