Historic Win For Myanmar Press Freedom As Independent Radio Show Launches
The launch of a new community radio program is a significant step towards more open Myanmar press freedom, but the arrest of two Reuters journalists is a step back.
Despite restrictive press access to Myanmar’s Rakhine State and several high-profile arrests of journalists in early February, Myanmar media continues to make improvements from its prior standards of publication censorship and state control.
The first community-launched radio show in Yangon played its inaugural broadcast on February 18, marking a notable expansion of audio press freedoms in Myanmar, a country where internet access is still scarce in many rural communities.
Khaynae FM broadcasts daily from the Htantabin township of Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. The show’s pilot announced that the station will cover health and education, livestock and agriculture, and daily news and entertainment.
This transition from state-owned media to community radio broadcasts is supported by the Union Minister of Information, Dr. Pe Myint. Myint spoke on-air at the Htantabin show, alongside the German ambassador.
A greater expansion of Myanmar press freedom has been a priority issue for many individuals in the new citizen’s democracy of Myanmar, first formed in 2010.
In 2012, the Ministry of Information abolished its Literary Scrutiny Board, which, for the past 50 years, had reviewed all publication material before it went to print, including illustrations, cartoons and advertisements.
Media control has also recently spread into more diverse ownership. In 2014, only three news agencies existed in Myanmar, but by the end of 2017, there were 91 agencies distributing news.
Still, a myriad of laws restrict journalists and investigative media coverage. A telecommunications law passed in 2013 permits any individual to press legal charges against the author of any print, radio, television or internet content, including social media. As a result, individuals under media criticism can easily sue for slander.
Additionally, two Reuters journalists from Myanmar were denied bail last month as they await trial for complicated charges from the state.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were reporting on the military assassination of 10 Rohingya men, a Muslim ethnic minority that has fled en masse from the southwest region of Myanmar, when they were arrested for possession of state documents last December. According to the defendants, these documents were given to them during a dinner with two state officials, and their arrest occurred immediately outside of the restaurant.
“The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted Myanmar police authorities to arrest two of the news agency’s reporters,” Reuters stated after publishing the report compiled by the two journalists.
The two men await the verdict of their trial, which could result in jail sentences of up to 14 years. One of the arresting officers admitted in court to having burned his notes of the encounter.
In the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Myanmar ranks 131st of 180 countries listed. As they consciously attempt to climb in standings, government actions taken in relation to coverage of the Rohingya rehabilitation will likely determine the status of Myanmar press freedom in 2018.