News Media Law — သတင်းမီဒီယာ ဥပဒေ

The News Media Law was created partly to protect journalists in a country with no constitutional guarantee for media freedom and no government will to amend the many laws criminalising journalism. Unfortunately the law only partially protects media freedom and fails to guarantee journalists’ rights. Instead the law creates government regulation of the media and a Press Council that is not structurally independent from the government.

Summary of recommendations

The News Media Law was useful for journalists during the early political transition but is not suitable for a democracy and needs urgent amendment to support media freedom and make the Myanmar Press Council independent from government.

Detailed issues

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Article 3 lists the objectives of the law as creating a media industry, journalist rights, media ethics, and a complaints mechanism. The Article limits these rights as only if they are in compliance with the constitution.

International standards

Media laws should clearly recognise media freedom and the right to freedom of expression. Article 3 only covers a small part of these rights. International standards say media laws should explicitly say how important media freedom is to democracies, and that any regulation of the media undermines freedom of expression and must be justified. Media laws should also say that the government must ensure any interference with freedom of expression, including in using the News Media Law, is: (i) provided for by law; (ii) meets a legitimate aim, and (iii) is necessary in a democratic society.

Recommendations

Amend Article 3 to include the promotion and protection of media freedom and the right to freedom of expression in accordance with international human rights law, and stress the importance of unimpeded political debate.

Articles 4-8 list the rights of media workers to criticise the government, to collect and request information from the state and other sources, to investigate and publish, to be exempt from being arbitrarily detained or having their equipment seized, and limited guarantees for anonymous communication. These rights are limited by references to the Constitution and unknown directives and regulations.

International standards

Articles 4-8 do not include all journalists’ rights under international standards. In particular, they do not protect the anonymity of journalists’ sources or protect journalists from violence. The rights are also very weak and easily flouted because they are so limited by unspecified directives and regulations. Laws adopted by parliament must always override such government rules otherwise there will be confusion.

Recommendations

Amend Articles 4-8 to include protection of journalists’ sources anonymity and measures to protect journalists from violence, and remove all references to directives and regulations.

Article 9 outlines a code of conduct for journalists, including accuracy, corrections, photo manipulation, copyright and styles of writing. Article 25 criminalises journalists with fines if they break the code of conduct. Article 26 says that if journalists break Article 9(f) by inflaming national, religious or racial conflicts, they will be punished using other unspecified laws.

International standards

Government and parliament should not create ethical or professional rules and responsibilities for journalists because the media should be independent from government influence or control. According to international standards, the best way of supporting media independence is to allow them to self-regulate by creating their own code of conduct and holding themselves accountable. For those rules which are necessary, such as on defamation or contempt of court, laws should apply to everyone, not only journalists. Myanmar already has laws covering these issues so repeating them under Article 9 is confusing, unnecessary and will likely result in self-censorship.

Recommendations

Repeal Articles 9, 25 and 26, and add to Article 17 a duty for the Council to support the development of a self-regulatory Code of Conduct agreed by journalists themselves.

Articles 12-24 create the Myanmar Press Council and outline its work. The Council has up to 30 members serving up to six-years, with three proposed by the government and others proposed by unspecified media staff, publishers, writers, cartoonists and academics. The President appoints those proposed and can dismiss them for a number of reasons including if they break any of the rules in Article 9 or unspecified rules created by the Council. The Council’s duties are to improve the media and their funding comes from a range of government and non-government sources. The Council also has a duty under Articles 19-24 to accept and negotiate complaints made against journalists for breaking the Code of Conduct.

International standards

Press councils should be independent from government and others such as media companies, including safeguards to prevent political influence over appointments and dismissals. Articles 12-24 do not include safeguards or guarantee Press Council independence. They instead give the government the power to appoint and dismiss Council members, and include only vague and easily manipulated rules on funding and on how others such as journalists can propose Council members. The Council complaints mechanism also has no safeguards against government influence, and has to enforce the government’s rules under Article 9, many of which are not acceptable under international standards. The Council can negotiate a compromise but Articles 21 to 24 do not include normal remedies such as the right of reply or correction, or the publication of Council decisions.

Recommendations

  • Add a new Article safeguarding the independence of the Council.
  • Amend Articles 13-16 removing the government’s role in choosing or dismissing Council members.
  • Amend Article 17 to add the Council’s duty to defend media freedom.
  • Amend Article 19 making it clear where funding will come from, when, and who will decide how much.
  • Amend Articles 21-24 to include alternative remedies such as the right of reply.

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