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Key Developments

» Draft printing and publishing law would impose new censorship criteria.

» Authorities grant licenses for private newspapers to publish daily.

Journalists reporting in Burma continued to face threats and obstacles despite widespread hope for a freer media environment with the transition from military to quasi-civilian rule. While existing restrictive laws perpetuated self-censorship, a new printing and publishing bill aimed to re-impose broad censorship guidelines and grant a newly created registrar sweeping powers to issue and revoke publishing licenses. Journalist groups protested the bill, saying its measures would undercut the press freedom guarantees enshrined in a separate media law being drafted with input from journalists. Both bills were still pending parliamentary approval in late year. In a significant shift marking the end of pre-publication censorship, authorities issued licenses to private newspapers allowing them to publish on a daily basis. Several journalists were threatened or assaulted while covering deadly Buddhist mob attacks on Muslim communities in March. A journalist was sentenced in December to three months in prison for alleged trespassing and defamation while covering a news story. Exile media groups known for their editorial independence faced uncertain futures because of donor funding cuts and rising competition from better-financed, state-linked publications.

  • 1.07%

    Internet penetration
  • 3

    Unresolved killings since 1992
  • 31

    Licenses awarded
  • 9

    Repressive laws still on books

Burma has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world, according to 2012 data published by the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU. Authorities claimed that foreign investments in mobile telecommunications infrastructure would expand Internet access through mobile devices and boost penetration rates to 50 percent by 2016.

Internet penetration rates in Burma over time:

At least three journalists have been killed in Burma since 1992, when CPJ began keeping detailed records. Despite a pledge by the new government to bolster rule by law, no legal action was initiated to resolve the killings which occurred under the previous administration.

Breakdown of fatalities:

September 27, 1999:

U Hla Han, reporter for the state-owned Burmese paper Kyemon, was allegedly tortured to death in military custody in retaliation for a newspaper headline criticizing an intelligence chief, according to the exile-run Democratic Voice of Burma.

October 2, 1999:

U Tha Win, reporter for Kyemon, was also allegedly tortured to death in military custody for the same reason as his colleague, U Hla Han, DVB reported.

September 27, 2007:

Kenji Nagai, reporter for the Tokyo-based video and photo agency APF News, was killed by Burmese troops cracking down on protests in Rangoon, according to news reports. Video footage of Nagai's killing clearly shows he was shot by a uniformed soldier. Authorities have never accepted responsibility for his death.

In a significant shift, authorities issued 31 licenses to newspapers, allowing them to publish on a daily basis, according to data published by the Ministry of Information. Under the previous censorship regime, private publications could publish only on a weekly or monthly basis.

Number of licensed private daily newspapers:

At least nine harsh and arbitrary laws used to suppress and imprison journalists under military rule remained on the books in late year. Others have new repressive versions pending parliamentary approval. Threats and obstacles remain to truly unfettered reporting in Burma.

"These laws are still there and so can be used at any time. They are hanging above our heads," said Win Tin, who now writes a regular column for D Wave newspaper, which is affiliated with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party. The paper regularly criticizes Thein Sein's administration and calls for justice for crimes committed under the previous regime. "These laws are more or less a real danger for press freedom in the future," said Win Tin. "We want to abolish all of these laws."

Repressive laws still on the books:

The Wireless Telegraphy Act (1933)

The Emergency Provisions Act (1950)

The Printers and Publishers Registration Law (1962) (new repressive version pending in parliament)

The Television and Video Act (1995)

The Unlawful Association Act (new repressive version in parliament)

The Internet Act (2000)

The Electronic Act (2004)

Article 505 (b) of the criminal code

Article 354 of the 2008 Constitution

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