Myanmar′s journalists breathe more freely but it′s a long haul | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 06.03.2012
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Myanmar's journalists breathe more freely but it's a long haul

The tide of change can be felt in Myanmar's media landscape. Although some independent journalists are skeptical, Parliament is currently reviewing a draft law that might abolish censorship altogether.

Ahr Mahn collapses into his leather armchair in the small conference room. The editor-in-chief of the weekly 7-Day News has just come back from the censors. Myanmar is going through a reform process and censorship has been relaxed, but not abolished.

He explains that a recent article he wrote was particularly displeasing to the censors. "They demanded I use a milder tone. I had mentioned the fact that many people were worried something might happen to Aung San Suu Kyi during her election campaign trips."

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, meets Myanmar's President Thein Sein

Hillary Clinton's trip to Myanmar aroused a lot of media interest

Generally, however, he says, it is no longer a problem to talk about Myanmar's iconic opposition leader. Barely a newspaper appears these days without her picture on the cover. The young editor explains that there has been a marked change since she met President Thein Sein. "Before it was strictly forbidden to show her on the cover and only sometimes was it allowed inside."

'The people believe us'

Mahn says that the newspaper's popularity has increased dramatically since last April. It now has a weekly circulation of 140,000. "The news suddenly became important and the people believe what we say."

Zeya Thu, deputy editor at The Voice, which has a weekly circulation of 85,000, says another reason is the fact that the news is more up-to-date. "The censorship process used to take at least a week," he says.

Nonetheless, there are still subjects which remain taboo. The peace talks between the government and ethnic minorities are delicate. There can be no talk of fighting. No statements made by ethnic groups, especially the Kachin, are allowed to be published.

But Zeya Thu says he no longer censors himself. "Before we couldn't write about anything - about political prisoners or human rights. Now we simply write what we want and then the censors can decide what to cut out."

Abolishment of censorship?

Parliament is currently reviewing a new media law that is supposed to abolish censorship altogether and allow the independent press to publish on a daily basis - currently a privilege enjoyed only by the state media.

The government has apparently based the draft media law on passages from Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam's media laws, which some view with a certain misgiving.

U Aung Myint from the Myanmar Post, which was founded a year ago and has a weekly circulation of 20,000, is not impressed by the reform process so far. "Of course there have been changes in the past 14 months, but they do not go far enough," he says. "Censorship still exists even if it has been relaxed. We have to make sure each manuscript is approved before publishing it. This is not press freedom."

Members of the government and the Karen negotiate peace

The independent media has to be careful when reporting about peace talks with ethnic groups

He explains that a recent interview he did with U Thein Oo from the National League for Democracy about the future and significance of the military was cut.

His colleague Htet Htet Kine shares his concerns. "I interviewed a famous actor and he spoke about censorship in the film industry," she says. "The censors cut it all out of course."

However, Zeya Thu from The Voice prefers to be optimistic. He says it is clear from the headlines on every street corner that "things are changing."

Author: Udo Schmidt / act
Editor: Sarah Berning

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