The Printing and Publishing Law is a licensing law for the print media. Democracies do not licence the print media because licences are easily abused by governments. Printers and publishers are ordinary businesses and should be regulated under ordinary business laws. There is also no need for the Printing and Publishing Law to duplicate general laws such as the Penal Code which already covers incitement and defamation.
Summary of recommendations
The Printing and Publishing Law and its licensing of the media is not compatible with democracy and should be repealed.
Article 3 says the objective of the law is to regulate, support and protect the freedom of expression of a good quality and thriving printing and publishing business. The Article limits these objectives to ethical printers and publishers that follow other unspecified laws.
The objective to support printers and publishers is good but the law does not do this. International standards recommend ending import taxes on paper, ink and equipment, stopping monopolies, and making clear and fair rules for getting government advertising. The majority of the law focuses on regulating and licensing who can publish or print, which are unacceptable under international standards. The objective that printers and publishers follow other unspecified laws is both vague and worthless as those laws can already be enforced.
Amend Article 3 by including an objective of guaranteeing freedom of expression and removing reference to ethical practices and unspecified laws.
Amend the rest of the law to give real support for printers and publishers.
Articles 4-7, 15-16 and 19 outline the licensing of printers and publishers. Article 4 says that anybody who wants to print or publish, or create a news business needs a licence from the government. Articles 5-7 say how people can get licences and that the government can take away the licence if the government things the application was dishonest. There is no definition of dishonest. Articles 15-16 and 19 give a criminal fine of up to 5 million Kyat.
International standards say that any regulation of the media or freedom of expression must be necessary in a democracy. Licensing of printers and publishers is unnecessary and can be abused by the government to stop or dissuade criticism from the media. It is particularly unnecessary to license printers as it is not their role to decide what content is legal. Articles 4-7 are vague and the government can easily reject applications or end licences without any real reason. International standards also say that any media regulator must be independent from the government, but Articles 4-7 say the Ministry of Information manages licensing.
Repeal Articles 4-7 and end all licensing of the media.
Articles 8-10 say that courts can temporarily or permanently take away printers’ and publishers’ licences if they publish content that is obscene, instigates criminal acts, incites racial or cultural violence, or undermines national security, public order, or the rights of individual citizens.
Anybody can create obscene content, instigate criminal acts, incite violence or undermine national security, which is why the Penal Code already includes articles on these issues. International standards say duplicating these rules only for printers and publishers is confusing, unnecessary and would likely be used by the government to punish the media for criticising them. Articles 8-10 are also too broad and vague and could be easily abused by government. A likely result will be publishers and printers self-censoring because they are worried about losing their licences.
Repeal Articles 8-9 and refer any cases to the relevant articles in the Penal Code.
Amend Article 10 so that it is clear that banning a publication can only be done when there is a threat of serious and irreversible harm.
Article 11 says that printers must send the Ministry of Information a copy of everything they print and a detailed breakdown of quantities if they import or export publications. Articles 17-18 and 20-21 give a criminal fine of up to 3.3 million Kyat.
It is not clear what the purpose of Article 11 is. International standards say that any regulation of the media must serve a legitimate purpose otherwise it undermines media freedom. Asking printers to send a copy of everything they produce and give the Ministry a breakdown of imports and exports is very unusual in a democracy and seems to be an attempt to control publishers or printers. It is also very expensive for the printer and for the officials that have to administer it.
Repeal Article 11.
Articles 12-14 regulate publishers making content online. Article 12 says that licensed publishers can put their content online. Article 13 says that licensed news agencies can put their content online. Article 14 says that publishers and news agencies putting their content online must follow the content regulations in Article 8.
Anybody can create obscene content, instigate criminal acts, incite violence or undermine national security, which is why the Penal Code already includes articles on these issues. International standards say duplicating these rules only for printers and publishers online is confusing, unnecessary and would likely be used by the government to punish the media for criticising them.