Prior to British colonisation in
1836, the country’s first newspaper, The Maulmain Chronicle (English-language
weekly newspaper), was published and followed by The Rangoon Chronicle
in 1853, later renamed to The Rangoon Times. King Mindon,
encouraged the freedom of press and creation of first Myanmar language
newspaper “Yadanapon Naypyidaw” so as to report on him and the
Queen, even if it described their negative side.

After King Mindon’s era, the
media was useful tool for anti-colonialism. Newspapers were
permitted to report news from around the country, interviewing politicians and
interacting with foreign journalists, which is the total opposite to the
neighbours. 

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During the colonial era, the
number publications in circulation have increased. In 1911, there were more
than 40 periodicals and newspapers in circulation and 100 in 1921. There were
over 200 newspapers and periodicals in circulation before the end of the 1930s.
More than 60 newspapers emerged
across the country, including Japanese-language and ethnic newspaper in 1935-1945.

After Myanmar enjoyed its
independence from the United Kingdom in 1948 until 1962, the country is met
with a temporary period of democracy and free media in the 1947 Constitution.
Journalist U Thaung founded The Mirror Daily newspaper in
1957, with its largest circulation of 90,000.

During British colonial era, Radio service in Myanmar was on
air in 1936. Bama Athan (when British
launched Burma Broadcasting Service) carrying national news, entertainment,
knowledge reply, school lessons and English language news commenced in Feb
1946.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.   
Role of Media under the military
government (1962-2010)

Myanma Alin, founded as a magazine in 1914 during the British
colonial era in Yangon, was nationlised in 1969 by General Nay Win’s military
government. There has another state-owned English version newspaper called the Working People’s Daily, established in
Jan 1964. It was renamed the New Light
of Myanmar in 1993. The country has only its state-owned newspapers
distributed on a daily basis.

Despite the tight press laws, a
wide variety of publications were seen. The strict press laws does
not have much impact on magazine compared to newspapers, as long as they do not
highlight the discussion of the political climate. There were
overall 187 weekly journals registered to the Press Scrutiny and Registration
Division under the Ministry of Information of July 2009. 

Radio service was renamed
Myanmar Radio in 1988. The military government created Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), formerly known as BBS. There
are seven TV stations in Myanmar _ MRTV-1, 2, 3, MWD…, etc. Satellite
television was illegitimate at that time. Local operators such as Sky Net &
4tv broadcast more than 70 local and international channels.

Myanmar media has gone through tight censorship regulation under the
repression of military government.
The web media concerning the military government was blocked. Myanmar’s media was
far removed from international society and its people were forced to turn to
blind eyes to current issues of the globe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.   
 Role of Media in Democratic Transition Period
(2011-present)

In 2010, Myanmar democratization reform process commenced and this
year witnessed  the release of political
prisoners, including journalists and bloggers; the end of the censorship body,
the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division; 
lift of the international and Myanmar banned news websites; a decrease
in surveillance and harassment of journalists; increasing freedom to write on
previously banned subjects; permission to establish independent journalist
organizations; the establishment of the interim Myanmar Press Council to
improve the situation for journalists and draft new media laws; permission for
the publication of private daily newspapers; invitations to exile media to
return and open offices in the country; and licenses for ethnic language media
after decades of prohibiting these languages from being taught in schools or
used in private media.

U Tint Swe, head of the
country’s censorship body, the Press Scrutiny
and Registration Division (PSRB), told Radio Free Asia
that censorship should come to halt in the near future as it is not in
harmony with democratization.

Myanmar end censorship of pre-publication in August 2012, as a result
of the democratic transition in
the then government period. Newspapers and other outlets are no longer need to
seek approval of state censors but
journalists in the country might still face consequences for what they write
and say.

After the censorship law was
repealed in August 2012, sixteen dailies were granted licenses for publication.
Under the 1962 Printing and Registration Act, publishing without a license is
subjected to a seven-year prison term. In April 2013, the first four privately
owned dailies – The Voice Daily, Golden
Fresh Land, The Standard Time Daily and The Union Daily emerged.

The Voice Daily is run by the publishers of The Voice Weekly published since 2004.
Golden Fresh Land was run
by Khin Maung Lay who worked for the Mogyo
Daily prior to
1964, who has served dozens of prison terms for speaking out against the
government. The Union Daily is backed by the Union Solidarity
and Development Party.

There are a large variety of magazines
in Myanmar_ traditional medicine, various magazines published by ethnic groups
and Buddhist and astronomy related magazines. There are also about 15
newspapers published daily, devoted entirely to sports.

Although media was no longer need direct
pre-publication censorship, journalists still face arrests and attacks. And
criticism of the military is widely recognized as forbidden subjects and so is
communal and ethnic conflict.

Under
the incumbent government period, Inwa tailoring shop abuse to two domestic
workers inspected by Myanmar Now’s editor Ko Swe Win and the government’s action
is a significant instance of promoting human rights as public outcry beat the
inadequate response of the National Human Right Commission and four
commissioners stepped down. The police chiefs who ignored the initial report
were investigated and demoted.

Nevertheless,
the freedom of expression limit in the
NLD government is relatively similar to the then government’s period and
does not meet with public satisfaction. Some foreign scholars point out that
media freedom detessriorated under the civilian elected government. The Tamadaw
brought many charges against journalists more than it did in the then
government period, with the defamation laws applied with new level of vigor_ the
breaches of the Unlawful Associations Act and the section 66 (d) of the
Telecommunications Law.  The foreign
journalists arrested with a drone in Nay Pyi Taw were convicted under the 1934
Burma Aircraft Act and the two Reuters reporters were detained in Yangon for
allegedly violating Article 3 of the Colonial-era official secrets Act.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.    The 2014 News Media Law
of Myanmar

 

The News Media Law introduces some guarantees for media freedom, such as
the prohibition of censorship and the recognition of specific rights of media
workers.

However, the Media Council is not independent from government, and
therefore fails to sufficiently safeguard the media from the application of
content based criminal laws that, while not imposing custodial sentences, still
unjustifiably limit freedom of expression.

The Law contains several positive
references to the important role of media in society, and expands legal
protection for media freedoms and the rights of media workers but it is not in comply with international standards
on freedom of expression.

There are numerous fundamental flaws
in the Law from a freedom of expression perspective.

The Objectives of the Law do not
explicitly recognize media freedom or the right to freedom of expression.

In particular, the law should
recognize the importance of media freedom to comment on public issues and
inform public opinion without censorship or prior restraint. The law should
stress the value of uninhibited expression, particularly in the circumstances
of public debate in a democratic society concerning figures in the public and
political domain.

The Law fails to distinguish between
different types of media, treating all print, internet and broadcast media as
the same, subjecting them to the same levels and method of regulation through
the Media Council.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.    Responsibilities of
media workers

Responsibilities of media workers are
to avoid writing news which deliberately affects the reputation of a specific
person or an organization or generates negative impact to the human rights.

They need
to report news with these characteristics: truth,
fairness, justifies, accuracy, speed, prestige. They must not be participant
in the news stories which means they must not add their opinion or feeling in
the stories. No facts are to be wilfully
distorted or essential facts deliberately suppressed.

They must not stand for
any party, politics and any class of the people but only the truth.

The right of the individual for
protection of his reputation and integrity shall be respected. Publicity that violates the sanctity of
privacy shall be avoided, unless it is deemed necessary in the interest of the
public.

Discretion must be observed
concerning sources of information. Professional secrecy must also be observed
in all manners revealed in confidence.

In reporting crime stories, it must
be solemnly observed that the accused is innocent until he is found guilty by a
competent court of law.

The
personnel of the Press must never accept
any form of bribe or permit personal interest to influence their sense of
justice and impartiality.

Myanmar media world had been nearly under total
eclipse for almost half a century, leading to the great loss of professional
ethics and standards of journalism. Myanmar’s fourth estate is still in its
infancy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.    The Importance of Social Media

The
introduction of cell phones and the
Internet into Myanmar has widened the media scape.
Although the government used to block foreign news and other websites, restriction has now eased. Social media platform has become one of
the popular means of communication
of people around the globe in IT age.  Journalists now use the Internet to report,
network, and lobby for greater press freedom, and most news organizations have
an online presence. Many government ministers, celebrities, journalists, and
various public figures now have their own Facebook pages, where comments and
discussions at times become sources for mainstream media news.  

There has been a push
toward digital platforms in Myanmar. The huge uptick is usage of social media
platforms like Facebook has been driven by large-scale investments made in
telecommunications technology infrastructure. Myanmar now has at least 33
million mobile users according to recent surveys, which is around 50 % of the
population. Smart phone use is at around 80% of those 33 million users. This
shows that digital does have an important role to play in the country’s media
scape.

Many who have access to
the internet in Myanmar are using Facebook as a news source. Facebook is
becoming more and more important as an aggregator and arbiter of news in
Myanmar.

However, some news stories are unreliable as they
might be fabricated. It can also bring about inhumane violence to the public in
real-time report.

According to IRI’s
Survey 2017, 25% of Myanmar population use Facebook and 70% users use Facebook
every day. The main source of News and Information come from TV (32%),
Relatives/friends (19%), Radio (17%), Facebook (14%) and newspaper (8%).

 

7.1 Section 66 (D) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law

 

When people take part in mass media (facebook,
twitter, youtube, etc), immorality or obscenity, use of vulgar expressions, malicious
imputations and false defamatory statements might be found. In order to control those cybercrime, controversial
freedom of speech laws, such as section 66
(D) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law- where any person can press charges
against an author over any content communicated over the internet, telephone,
radio or television.

At least 90 people have
been charged under 66(d) since the law come into force in 2013. Some of them
include the sharing their opinions about government officials and military on
Facebook and made up the fake news.

Journalist Kyaw Min
Swe, from local paper “The Voice”, was arrested in June 2017 after he published
a satirical article that mocked a military propaganda film.

The Yangon Region
Government charged two executives from the Eleven media group with defamation
over a controversial commentary

This actions ignited a
debate about media freedom and responsibility.