Myanmar’s newly adopted Broadcasting Law retains the president’s power to control the broadcasting sector. It creates a legal framework without safeguards for media independence and continues the government-run media – a type of media normally only found in authoritarian states. The law will quickly become out-dated as it fails to deal with the digitisation of broadcasting, which has happened in all of Myanmar’s neighbours.
Democracy requires an independent media to enable the free flow of information and ideas to the public so that individuals can make better decisions that affect their lives, and the authorities can be held to account. Radio and television broadcasters are vital in the dissemination of reliable, pluralistic information to the whole population, including to inaccessible or marginalised communities, in a language that they understand.
In contrast to the printed media, where there is no natural limitation on the number of possible publications and therefore no democratic need to regulate, international standards require the regulation of broadcasting to ensure that the limited spectrum of available channels are democratically distributed. As such, the Broadcasting Law which was adopted in August 2015 is a welcome step as it replaces a previously arbitrary process of regulation under which only a few state-controlled or government-linked channels exist, with a proper legal system.
The Broadcasting Law includes some positive aspects, such as recognition of the basic principles of freedom of expression and media pluralism, and of the fundamental principles of fairness, transparency and participatory processes needed to develop further media policy. The Law also offers a basis for the development of independent regulation, and includes a balanced allocation between public service media, commercial broadcasters and community media.
However, the Law has several substantial areas of concern that will significantly undermine the freedom and independence of the media. In this analysis, ARTICLE 19 makes a number of recommendations, key of which are:
- The Law should be amended to safeguard the media’s independence from government control. In particular, the president should have no role in choosing or removing members of the Council.
- Government media should be privatised or turned into public service media – it is not acceptable in a democracy to have media directly controlled by the government.
- The Law’s provisions on public service media are vague – the Law should be amended or a new law adopted as soon as possible.