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Turning the media tide in Myanmar

Myanmar Information Minister U Aung Kyi has spoken in support of abolishing the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law and predicted that daily publishing licences will be issued to the private sector early next year.

In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview, his first since being appointed Information Minister, he also stressed that a proposed media law meet international standards, that a planned press council be self-regulating and of the importance of journalists adhering to a code of practice.

U Aung Kyi, the former Labour Minister who had also served as the previous military government’s liaison with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest, was appointed Information Minister in the reshuffle announced by President U Thein Sein on August 27.

U Aung Kyi replaces U Kyaw Hsan, who had been Information Minister since 2002 and was appointed Minister for Cooperatives in the reshuffle.

The Editor of the Myanmar edition of The Myanmar Times, Zaw Myint, spoke to U Aung Kyi in Yangon on Sunday.

Print media journalists have called for the abolition of the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, which provides for publications to be penalised if they breach censorship guidelines. What is your response?

I agree that this law should not be retained. I am reviewing the draft of Press Media Law, which includes a provision for the repeal of the 1962 law. It is understood that when the new media law is enacted, the 1962 law will be repealed.

Meanwhile, I am considering two courses of action for proceeding with the Press Media Law. One is to submit it to the hluttaw [committee], as originally planned, so it will be enacted as soon as possible.

The other is to have it reviewed by journalists and experts to consider possible amendments so that when it is finally enacted it meets international standards. I am yet to make up my mind because I am new to this role and I do not think I should act with haste. That is why I am taking my time.

When do you think the Press Media Law will be enacted?
As I have said, I am giving this matter a lot of thought. If journalists and experts have an opportunity to review the draft law and propose adjustments I hope the end result will be better.

To be quite frank I am not happy with the idea of submitting the draft law to the hluttaw before members of the media have an opportunity to review it. I am sincere in wanting to achieve a comprehensive press media law that meets international standards. These are matters that need some thought.

That is why I cannot say when the law will be enacted.

Is it possible that private sector publications will be granted daily publishing licences before the Press Media Law is enacted?

It is my sincere belief that daily [private sector] newspapers are essential for a democratic country. I will do my best to ensure that the private sector publications can launch dailies. But before that happens we need some reforms, especially in terms of the institutional capacity to provide for such a development.

These reforms are needed first, not necessarily all, but some. When the institutional capacity exists to provide for daily licences, they will be issued.

While we are making the necessary preparations on the government side, those in the media sector should continue with their planning for daily newspapers. In terms of institutional capacity, there are some matters that need to be discussed in detail, including with journalists.

For example, if the Press Media Law comes out late, I think that in the meantime we need to discuss such issues as a code of practice and professional ethics. We have not yet discussed these matters. But if we make progress on these matters, I anticipate that licences for daily newspapers will be issued early next year.

That is my goal but I cannot achieve it alone. It will have to be done in co-operation and co-ordination with other organisations as well as journalists and media experts. We can expect that this process will result in a lot of different ideas, arguments and debates in the interest of the people.

Our focus is to serve the interests of the people and the president has already announced this strategy. It is because the people’s interest has to be taken into account that I cannot say exactly when daily newspaper licences will be granted. But if the necessary preparations are made I estimate they might be granted early next year.

Some critical comments were made by the Myanmar Journalists Association, Eleven Media Group and veteran journalists regarding the recently established Myanmar Core Press Council. What is your response to them?

One of the main priorities on my mind after I was appointed Information Minister was the issue of the Core Press Council. I am seriously considering ways to ensure that the council is an organisation that is trusted by the people.

I want to ensure that the council carries out its functions properly, fairly and honourably. Similar organisations exist around the world and we studied them in 70 countries.

A press council should be a self-regulatory organisation. That is why I am considering how I can help the council so that it functions according to international standards. 

I want the council to function as a self-regulatory body with rules and regulations that are trusted by all.

Is there any plan to ensure that media standards in Myanmar match those of other ASEAN countries when Myanmar assumes the chair of the regional grouping in 2014? What arrangements will there be for foreign journalists to be granted visas to enter Myanmar? Does the Ministry of Information plan to reform the state-run press in terms of publishing more transparent articles?
My aim is to ensure that our media sector has better standards than those in other ASEAN countries, praiseworthy though they are. We have one and half years to 2014.

To achieve the goal of higher media standards, we need to have laws that are of international standard.

I have experience in drafting laws from my previous role and I believe that the tasks we will be carrying out on behalf of the media sector during the next one and half years will ensure that the standards of Myanmar’s media sector are not lower than ASEAN standards.

As for foreign journalists, there is no problem in issuing them with entry visas. They are freely coming to our country these days.

I am interested in the reform of the state-owned newspapers, and while I cannot say too much at the moment, we are working towards significant changes in those publications in one or two months.

These reform moves will involve the private sector.

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