Statement

Myanmar: Journalists recommend new government decriminalise expression

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ARTICLE 19

05 Jan 2016

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A survey of Myanmar journalists and media workers at a national media conference organised by ARTICLE 19 and partners has outlined clear reform priorities on the decriminalisation of expression for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her new National League for Democracy government, due to take power in March 2016.

Myanmar journalists were generally disappointed in the USDP government’s reform of media laws over the past three years and have high expectations for the new government.

Their expectations for reform include the need to create a transparent system that is backed up by amended media laws and overseen by an independent judicial system.

Journalists are particularly concerned by the criminalisation of expression that is still rampant across the country’s legislative framework. While they want the new government to amend the Constitution, they also want urgent changes to provisions on sedition, insult, criminal defamation and official secrets, all of which have no place in a democracy.

Survey findings

On a scale from one to ten, participants graded the level of media freedom in Myanmar as 5.7. In particular, they regarded themselves as only partially free to report during the recent general elections.

When asked what general policies the new government should prioritise in order to support the media, participants prioritised the following:

  1. Promoting open governance and transparency
  2. Reforming the judicial system to properly protect media freedom
  3. Amending media laws, in particular to ensure independence
  4. Supporting the development of ethnic media and minority voices

Looking at the laws regulating media freedom in Myanmar, participants wanted the new government to reform them according to the following prioritisation:

  1. Constitutional protections for freedom of expression and media (24%)
  2. Official Secrets Act (24%)
  3. News Media Law (18%)
  4. Penal Code (13%)
  5. Broadcasting Law (10%)
  6. Printing and Publishing Law (8%)

For the Constitution, participants recommended that the new government amend the articles on freedom of expression to bring them into line with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and remove all contradictions.

With regard to the Penal Code, participants stated the following crimes should be amended in order of priority:

  1. Sedition (41%)
  2. Insulting religion (25%)
  3. Criminal defamation (18%)
  4. Obscenity (9%)
  5. Promoting enmity (7%)

The majority of the participants wanted the newly established News Media Council to focus on acting independently from the Ministry of Information, and to work proactively to include all the media, including increasing the voices of ethnic and regional media.

With regard to those journalists and media workers currently in prison or facing trial, the participants mostly urged the government to release them immediately, and adopt a “protection of journalists” law. The participants also called on the new government to protect journalists’ rights to report on court cases and to train judges in the UDHR and international standards.

When asked about the future of state broadcasters and state newspapers, participants’ opinions were less clear-cut as to whether to close, sell or transform them, but there was a small majority supporting turning both sectors into public service media.

Background

Over 300 journalists, media workers, civil servants and civil society members came together to participate in the 4th Myanmar Media Development Conference, held in Yangon on 10-11 December 2015. During the conference, participants were asked a series of questions (in Burmese) designed to develop a list of reform priorities for the new government due to start in March 2016.

In 2015, the Myanmar Journalists’ Association, Myanmar Journalists’ Network and Myanmar Journalists’ Union, supported by ARTICLE 19, submitted to the United Nations an analysis of media freedom in the country, with a list of recommendations for change.

Following on from this analysis, the Media Development Conference survey looked to establish a clear set of priorities for reform for the newly elected government due to take power in March 2016.

The National League for Democracy, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, attended the Media Development Conference alongside representatives from the Ministry of Information.

For more information, please contact ARTICLE 19’s Myanmar team, Myanmar@article19.org