Myanmar reporters protest new threats to press freedom

YANGON (Jan 7, 2014): Journalists in Myanmar staged a protest Tuesday to denounce new threats to press freedom and demand the release of a fellow reporter — the first to be jailed since junta rule ended.

About 150 journalists and activists marched through Yangon chanting slogans including “No threat to press freedom” and waving placards which read: “Right to information is the life of democracy”.

The protest was led by the Myanmar Journalist Network in response to a three-month prison sentence given last month to a local journalist arrested during an investigation in the eastern state of Kayah.

Ma Khine, who works for the Eleven Media group, was convicted of defaming a lawyer, trespassing on the lawyer’s property during an interview and using abusive language.

Her employer believes she may have been targeted because of a story it printed about corruption in the judicial system.

“It’s a direct threat as journalists can be punished with criminal charges while working on news stories,” said Myint Kyaw, general secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Network.

The end of decades of military rule in 2011 ushered in dramatic media reforms, including a relaxation of pre-publication censorship and the release of imprisoned journalists.

But rights groups say the media now face a different kind of threat.

“Attacks on press freedoms in Burma (Myanmar) have shifted from overt state harassment to a litigious approach, where new media laws seek to exert more subtle pressure on journalists and deter them from doing their job,” David Mathieson, a researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

Myanmar last year jumped 18 places to 151st out of 179 in a World Press Freedom Index compiled by media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which has called for a review of Ma Khine’s case.

“A news organisation should not have to incur the risk of criminal proceedings and, in this case, the conviction of one of its reporters, because of its news coverage. Freedom of information is at stake,” it said in a recent statement. – AFP