“I have to admit that today’s media landscape has changed; the media industry is booming, plus the government says it will allow private dailies,” said Thiha Saw, an editor. “But,” he added, “now is the time of self-censorship.”
The government ended prior censorship for all print media in August last year, but the censorship board continues to keep an eye on local media, journalists say. The censorship board sent private media groups a list of 16 “guidelines” the same month it abolished prior censorship. These guidelines urged journalists not to say anything negative about the government or its policies. But although the guidelines have no legal weight, the government clearly thought it had found a more subtle way of maintaining pressure on the media. The censorship board also pressures the print media in other ways. It controls publication licenses, which means it can choose to suspend a newspaper or magazine. “If they aren’t pleased with your paper’s content, they can revoke your license,” As an example, Thiha Saw pointed to Hnyo magazine, Burma’s first sex education magazine, which was banned by the censorship board earlier this month. The censorship board’s central committee, led by Information Minister Aung Kyi, revoked the magazine’s license on Jan. 9, saying the magazine violated its license as a fashion magazine because it “published near pornography,” according to a report from the New Light of Myanmar, the government’s official newspaper. The Associated Press described the magazine’s content as “tame by the standards of similar publications in the West or in neighboring Thailand,” but noted that Burma’s society is more conservative.
Shawn Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia spokesman for the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said a number of laws in Burma continue to give authorities discretionary powers to censor the press, including the Electronic Transactions Law and the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, which both allow for the imprisonment of journalists.
“Now we have to change to a business model, and that’s a big challenge,” he said. “There are some media organizations here with huge financial capital, they have resources and they’re established, but we’re just a newcomer, so it’s a big challenge to compete in the market.