In 2014, ARTICLE 19 analysed the 2014 Printing and Publishing Law of Myanmar in the light of international standards on freedom of expression. The Ministry of Information unveiled a draft of the Law in 2013, in a move that took observers by surprise. Responsibility to develop a law to replace the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law had previously been entrusted to the Interim Media Council. The Law was adopted and signed by the President in 2014.
The Printing and Publishing Law represents a step forward compared to the draconian 1962 law. It no longer facilitates prior censorship, and the penalties imposable under it are relatively modest. Oversight over the printing and publishing sector has been partly transferred from the government to the courts.
At the same time, it is questionable whether a specific law to regulate the printing and publishing sector is needed at all. ARTICLE 19 is not convinced that the Printing and Publishing Law will contribute to its stated goals of promoting freedom of expression and supporting the development of a vibrant printing and publishing sector. Its primary effect is to create a series of bureaucratic formalities with which companies in the sector must comply, such as registering with the Ministry of Information and sending it information on imports and exports of publications. While these procedures are less problematic than those under the 1962 law, it is not clear why they are necessary.
Vague definitions of what constitutes a “printer,” “publisher” or “‘news agency” create confusion as to whom the Law applies to, and similarly vague restrictions on the content of publications risk having a chilling effect.
Summary of key recommendations:
- The stated goal of the Law to ensure “ethical” practices and compliance with “relevant laws” should be dropped and replaced with a more substantive guarantee for freedom of the media
- The requirement to register should be abolished entirely. If the requirement to register is not abolished, the registration procedure should be amended and set out clearly within the Law itself. Those whose registration has been suspended or cancelled should have the right to appeal to a court
- The content restrictions listed should be removed and dealt with using laws of general application, such as the penal code. If they are not removed, they should be defined more clearly and narrowly in line with international standards
- The requirement to notify import and export of publications should be abolished entirely.