Although eight privately-owned dailies are to be launched on 1 April in a development that is without precedent in the past 40 years, Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about a proposed new law on printing and publishing that was submitted to parliament on 4 March.

The bill was drafted without consulting local media associations and contains articles that threaten media freedom.

Section 4, Article 8 of the bill says newspapers may be declared “illegal” in certain cases, including for such vaguely defined offences as publishing material that could “be dangerous for national reconciliation or hurtful for religions (Section 3, Article 7 A), “disturb the rule of law” (Section 3, Article 7 B) or “violate the constitution and other existing laws” (Section 3, Article 7 E).

Section 6, Article 17 says, “no one may sell, publish, print, distribute, export or import newspapers declared illegal in accordance with Article 8.” The penalties for violating the law are severe – jail terms of up to six months for journalists and fines of up to 12,000 dollars for publishing without permission (Section 7, Article 20).

In protest, the Press Council has announced that it is drafting its own law, while the Myanmar Journalists Association, the Myanmar Journalists Network and the Myanmar Journalists Union all issued statements last weekend condemning the government’s bill.