/ 8 October 2011

Burma censorship chief calls for ‘press freedom’

The head of Burma’s repressive state censorship body has called for press freedom in the army-dominated country — even suggesting his own department should be shut down, a report said on Saturday.

Tint Swe, director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department set up more than four decades ago, told Radio Free Asia that censorship should cease as part of reforms under the new nominally civilian government.

“Press censorship is non-existent in most other countries as well as among our neighbours and as it is not in harmony with democratic practices, press censorship should be abolished in the near future,” he said in an interview.

But he added that newspapers and other publications should accept press freedom with responsibilities.

He also said newspapers were being allowed to publish reports on pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released shortly after last November’s election, without restrictions that were previously imposed.

‘Democratic change’
“There are no restrictions now on coverage for Aung San Suu Kyi’s activities and more freedom is expected in the near future as the country undergoes democratic change,” he told the broadcasting corporation.

Since the new administration came to power in March after controversial November elections, Burma has announced a slight easing of strict censorship rules for some publications, while keeping a tight grip on news titles.

Publishers were told in June that sports journals, entertainment magazines, fairytales and the winning lottery numbers would not need to have prior approval from the information ministry before they are printed.

A journalist at a Rangoon newspaper, requesting anonymity, welcomed Tint Swe’s call for censorship to be fully lifted, saying there was “a sense of optimism but it is tempered with a healthy dose of caution” among reporters.

“There has been an encouraging easing of censorship in recent weeks and abolishing it will be an enormously welcome development,” he told Agence France-Presse.

“If you had suggested to me when I began working as a journalist in Myanmar 10 years ago that newspapers would be able to print some of the stories they are running today, I would have laughed in your face.”

Despite this, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said last month that Burma’s media remained among the world’s most restricted, calling for an end to “draconian” reporting laws and for the freeing of jailed journalists.

The CPJ said the new regime had done little to ease restrictions, while two journalists have been given lengthy jail sentences since the election.

In September, Burma’s internet users were able to see banned media websites for the first time, including the BBC and exiled media organisations such as the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).

But the move, which was not officially announced, came in the same week that a court added an extra decade to the sentence of a journalist jailed over his work for DVB. He now faces 18 years in prison. – AFP