25 April, 2016 / By Nick Baker in Myanmar Times
Myanmar remains one of the most repressive media environments in the world, according to a new report.
The 2016 World Press Freedom Index, prepared by international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, ranked Myanmar 143 out of 180 countries included in the assessment.
The overall score for the country worsened last year, despite ongoing political changes. The ranking is based on several factors, including media pluralism, independence, legislative framework and transparency.
The report claimed that this reflected “the limits of the reforms and measures taken to improve media freedom and safety” under the previous administration. It said that government entities “seemed to have opted for closely monitored freedom instead of the drastic censorship that was in effect until recently”.
Censorship in Myanmar was officially lifted in August 2012 but Myanmar-language state media “continue to censor themselves and avoid any criticism of the government or the armed forces”, according to the report.
The report also cited the “tension between Muslims and Buddhists”, religious conflict has displaced more tens of thousands since 2012, as a “highly sensitive subject” in Myanmar.
Executive director of the Myanmar Journalism Institute U Thiha Saw said the media landscape had improved over recent years but that several laws still inhibited the freedom of journalists.
U Thiha Saw said some journalists are still “very scared” about elements of the country’s criminal code and other laws, like the State Secrets Act and the Electronic Transactions Law, which were used in the past to imprison journalists. “Such laws also help create an environment of self-censorship among journalists,” he said.
But U Thiha Saw said that that last week’s release of five media workers from the weekly Unity journal, imprisoned for writing a story about an alleged chemical weapons factory in central Myanmar, showed that changes were coming. “We still have a long way to go … but there are positive signs,” he said.
Reporters Without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire stressed that good journalism around the world “must be defended … against media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests”.
“Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if human kind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved,” Mr Deloire said.
The 2016 edition of the index found that media freedom had “worsened significantly or stagnated” across most of the Asia-Pacific region. “The decline affected eastern Asia’s democracies, previously regarded as regional models,” the report said.
China, placed 176, and North Korea, on place 179, were the lowest-ranked countries in the region for media freedom.
To read the full report, click here.