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Is Burma's reform abortive as journalists under threats?

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From flickr.com/photos/62693815@N03/6277337422/: Putting journalists in jail at this critical political juncture in Burma is terribly dangerous for the people.
Putting journalists in jail at this critical political juncture in Burma is terribly dangerous for the people.
(image by NS Newsflash)
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The most media in Burma daren't to criticize the authorities and their human rights abuses during the junta's reign. The military regime imposed heavy censorship and all editors and publishers in Burma had to put forward news stories, articles, commentaries, pictures, cartoons and even the obituaries to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD) or the state's censorship bureau before publishing them.

Freedom of the press is one of the basic rights of every citizen mainly in free societies. Freedom of the press means the right to circulate opinions in print without government interference or prior censorship. In the early days of the existing quasi-civilian Government of Burma, the termination of press censorship, permitting private newspapers and creation of an Interim Press Council were signs of improvement concerning freedom of the press.

In his public speeches, President Thein Sein has constantly emphasized the need for a free press to check and balance Burma's nascent democracy. He has openly referred to the media as his country's "Fourth Estate," including in an address to the United Nations' General Assembly in October 2012.

Nevertheless, contrary to such constructive change, in July last year, five journalists from the Unity Weekly Journal have been sentenced to 10 years in prison for "disclosing state secrets" after their weekly reported on the complex of an alleged chemical weapons plant. They were imprisoned under the 1923 Burma State Secrets Act, a British colonial law before the country's independence in1948.

Besides, in October 2014, 5 journalists from Bi Mon-Te-Nay Journal were sentenced to two years behind bars. It was the highest punishment under Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code.

Furthermore in same October, Ko Par Gyi, a freelance journalist, was shot dead while under arrest of a government military unit. Although the censorship board has been abolished, the death of Ko Par Gyi is an inexcusable reminder of the ongoing restrictions on media freedom and democratic reforms in Burma.

It was also regrettable that the media reports in March 2015 said two reporters were among some 130 people detained amid a "brutal" crackdown on student-protesters by police in which several reporters were beaten. According to some news Journals, on 6 March in similar incident, police used rubber-batons to clamp down the peacefully protesting students including several journalists who were attempting to cover boycotts in Letpadan.

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The private journals also reported that police in Yangon detained two photojournalists on 4 March as they covered a protest of striking garment factory workers. According to reliable sources, authorities reportedly refused to return apparatus -- computers, cameras -- owned by two journalists' after their release. But, they issued warnings against the journals in state-owned newspapers.

Hence, journalists in Burma have to carry on their jobs facing threats and interferences regardless of democratic reforms. Burma ranks 145th out of 180 countries in the Reporters without Borders 2014 world press freedom index.

In addition, the allegation of contempt of court was filed against 17 members of Eleven Media Group for its news coverage concerning a trial of five EMG senior members. The 17 journalists are being charged for defaming the Ministry of Information by reporting a probable corruption inside the MOI. The EMG was accused with defamation in the primary case for a news article alleging that the Ministry of Information had misused public funds during the procurement of a printing press. Many journalists assume the case of 17 as a threat to media freedom ahead of the 2015 November 8 General Elections.

However, the role of the media will be more essential during election period in November this year. People used to highlight the significance of the free flow of information in the course of the election period. The worst is that prearranged attackers used slingshots with iron nuts to hit at Than Htut Aung in his car while it was at a traffic intersection in Yangon, Bahan Township, according to media news. Than Htut Aung, CEO of the EMG, was not injured in the attack but damaged window-glass of his car where he was seated. The assailants escaped in a taxi, the media reports said. Than Htut Aung regularly writes commentaries in the Eleven Daily Burmese version newspaper, wherein he frequently criticizes the military's involvement in politics and drawing back of the media freedom.

According to media news, two attackers has been arrested and others supposed to be the culprits are still at large. The CEO Than Htut Aung said he doubted the slingshot assassination seemed to be a politically-motivated.

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The Committee to Protect Journalists based in New York condemns the attack and calls on authorities to prosecute the perpetrators.

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum have also condemned the attack on Eleven Media Group CEO Dr. ThanHtut Aung that appears to have been a prearranged attack.

Putting journalists into jail and attacking the media by using goons will make the country a failed state. While the country is at a juncture of political change, the media workers in the country are looking forward to have more pragmatic backing from the global media groups, especially for the security supports.

However, new-generation journalists in the country are enforcing in favor of the rise of genuine 'Fourth Estate' including dependable journalism to support democracy transition in this underdeveloped nation. Journalists in Burma seem determined to continue monitoring of the peace process as well as the upcoming general elections.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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