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Asia-Pacific

Myanmar media test new freedoms

media A street vendor sells newspapers, magazines and books in Yangon Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Myanmar is planning to hold elections in 2015. Key to the success of the elections will be a free and uncensored press. Recent changes to media law mean that there are more newspapers going to print and censorship has for the most part been lifted. Myanmar's journalists are now busier - and freer - than ever before.

On the streets of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, almost every street corner seems to host a newspaper seller doing a brisk trade.

It's been called a new era of press freedom in Myanmar – as of 1 April four new newspapers hit the stands and another 12 are due to start printing in the coming months.

Tow Zaw Latt is the Myanmar Bureau Chief of the Democratic Voice of Burma – a multimedia news organisation founded in Oslo by Burmese dissidents.

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"Ministry of Information has given license to eight more daily newspaper," he says. "Six more are waiting and three are registered. That is for print, privately owned."

He says that the arrival of daily newspapers is not the only major reform to have taken place in recent years.

"There is no more censorship boards which lasted for 48 years and 20 days, which is a very long time. But there is still the after publishing act. In the past everything is subject to censorship but that is abolished. But still there is a kind of post-censorship, after production, which is still very controversial."

While some vestiges of censorship clearly remain, the freedoms being granted to the press are the latest in a series of reforms that have taken place since President Thein Sein took office in 2011 under a quasi-civilian government.

Sann Oo is the deputy editor of the Myanmar Times, a weekly newspaper in Burmese and English soon to become a daily.

Even with censorship lifted, newspapers in Myanmar face tough competition, he points out.

"In terms of circulation we didn't see much after the censorship had been removed," he says. "It may be because there is so much competition in the market. Our market is still very small because most of the readers are still concentrated in the big cities like Yangon and Mandalay so we have a limited readership."

Wai Moe is a journalist based in Yangon who works for US daily, the New York Times.

"They welcome back exiled journalist like me, coming back and working the country," he explains. "All the exiled media and also the foreign media they can open an office in Yangon, including Reuters and AP - also a quite significant change."

With censorship largely lifted, exiled journalists returning, and an increased international media presence being established. The arrival of new daily newspapers marks this just one more step toward greater press freedom in Myanmar.
 

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