Myanmar said it had abolished media censorship on Monday in the latest in a series of rapid democratic reforms, delighting journalists who lived for decades under the shadow of the censors’ marker pen.
Draconian pre-publication checks – applied in the past to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales – were a hallmark of life under the generals who ran the country for almost half a century until last year.
“This is a great day for all journalists in Myanmar, who have labored under these odious restrictions for far too many years,” said a senior editor at a Yangon weekly publication who preferred not to be named. “It is also another encouraging example of the progress that the country is making under (President) Thein Sein’s government,” he added.
Media reforms have already brought a lighter touch from the once ubiquitous censors, with less controversial publications freed from scrutiny last year.
Political and religious journals were the last to be allowed to go to press without pre-approval from the censors starting from Monday.
“For now on, local publications do not need to send their stories to the censorship board,” said Tint Swe, head of the government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD).
“Censorship began on August 6, 1964 and ended 48 years and two weeks later,” the former army officer told AFP by telephone from the capital Naypyidaw.
One exception is film censorship which remains in place, an information ministry official told AFP. Television journalists for their part “self censor” by asking for instructions about sensitive news, he added.
Since taking office last year, former general Thein Sein has overseen a number of dramatic changes such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
Reporters jailed under the junta have also been freed from long prison sentences, and the decision to abolish censorship was greeted with sighs of relief in newsrooms around the main city Yangon.
“As a journalist, I’m glad that we don’t need to send our stories to the scrutiny board,” Nyein Nyein Naing, an executive editor at 7 Day News journal, told AFP.
“We have worried for many years and it’s ended today,” she said, but noted that the media could still get into trouble after publication if their content is deemed by the authorities to undermine the stability of the state.
A more open climate has already seen private weekly news journals publish an increasingly bold range of stories, most notably about opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose very name was taboo in the past.
But both the media and the authorities are still adjusting to the new era of openness.
Two journals were recently suspended for a fortnight for prematurely printing stories without prior approval from the censors, prompting dozens of journalists to take to the streets in protest.
And the mining ministry is suing a weekly publication which reported that the auditor-general’s office had discovered misappropriations of funds and fraud at the government division.
Earlier this month the authorities announced the creation of a “Core Press Council” including journalists, a former supreme court judge and retired academics to study media ethics and settle press disputes.
[image via Agence France-Presse]