A new survey of Myanmar journalists, carried out by ARTICLE 19 and the Myanmar Working Group for Freedom of Expression, shows growing demand from the media for the newly governing National League for Democracy to enact legal reform on free expression.
“The annual survey of Myanmar journalists’ opinions reveals that they think freedom of expression has actually decreased since last year,” said Oliver Spencer, Head of Asia at ARTICLE 19.
“Perhaps as Myanmar transitions to democracy, journalists are becoming more aware of their rights. Their expectations may also have increased, given that Myanmar now has a democratically-elected government. However, the survey shows a clear and growing desire for reform of the country’s legal framework to guarantee free expression,” he added.
Journalists put Constitutional provisions on freedom of expression, freedom of information, and media freedom at the top of their reform priorities. The News Media Law and the Broadcasting Law were the next highest priorities, a concern which has not changed since last year’s survey.
A new priority raised this year was the Telecommunications Law, which for the past nine months has been used regularly to prosecute and imprison journalists and human rights defenders, under Article 66(d), for criminal defamation online.
Participants also demanded reform of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which has been largely untouched since being enacted under the British Imperial Government in 1861. Journalists’ key priority for reform of the Penal Code was criminal defamation, which has increased in priority since last year. This was followed by insulting religion and prohibitions on insult. Sedition, which was the highest demand for reform in 2015, is now less of a priority, followed by promoting enmity, and lastly, obscenity.
Journalists were also asked to rate the Myanmar Press Council for its work to defend freedom of expression. Approximately half of participants thought the Council had been successful, while half did not. In the 2015 survey, the majority of participants thought that the Council needed to work harder to be independent, however, after elections to some of the seats on the Council, participants were more interested in the Council leading the amendment of media laws.
Participants were again asked what they thought should happen to the state-controlled newspapers and broadcasters, as no changes have been made by the new government. Most journalists wanted both newspapers and broadcasters to be turned into public service media.
Finally, as the new government continues its Panglong peace process, aimed at ending more than 60 years of conflict in the country, journalists were asked how free they were to report on conflicts. The overwhelming majority stated that they were not.
ARTICLE 19 and the Myanmar Working Group for Freedom of Expression conducted the second annual survey at the Conference on Media Development in Myanmar, 7-8 November 2016. The survey asked a number of questions to understand the experiences, expectations and demands of the national media community. The results were compared to the previous year and the survey was presented during the conference’s concluding session.
For more information, please contact ARTICLE 19’s Myanmar team, [email protected]