Many journalists here cautiously welcomed this announcement, but their experiences have taught them not to be too optimistic. Newspapers will still have to send their articles to the Information Ministry after publication, and so they can still face being shut down. The hope is that this will eventually end, and that this is just a transitional phase.
Still, I think this is a big step forward for our country. Before, we journalists had to think of the censors before we even started writing an article. I don’t think newspapers will suddenly overhaul their coverage, but it should certainly encourage them to push the limits.
Already, over the past year, the censors had become a bit more lenient, and so newspapers were able to start writing about opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as report on cases of corruption among public officials. The public clearly wants to read more about corruption, so I think that’s where newspapers will really try to push the old boundaries. It will also be interesting to see if they use this newfound freedom to write about former leader General Than Swe and his cronies, because in the past, this was an extremely sensitive topic to cover. Some of his generals are in the government today, so they might have to tread carefully. Our current leaders don’t want us to look back.
“Censorship is also inside our own heads”
I imagine it will also remain difficult to cover ethnic conflicts, as authorities can charge journalists who cover armed conflicts under an act that prohibits “dealing with illegal organisations.” When I travelled to Kachin state
last May to cover the conflict there, I was very nervous that I would be arrested. Luckily, I was not, but with this law, the authorities easily could have charged me if they had wanted to.
Self-censorship is another serious threat to press freedom in this country. Journalists have been under this system for five decades. Censorship is inside our own heads. We’re going to need some time to realise that we’re in a whole new field. However, the younger ones haven’t had such bad experiences as their elders, and so they seem more than ready to cope with the challenges of this new era.
A more pressing concern, however, is the new media law
, which is still in the draft stages. It is expected to soon be handed over to parliament for a vote. The problem is, we in the media have no idea what’s in it. Of course, the Information Ministry says it’s great, but we would really like to see the draft. Until then, we’ll remain quite nervous.