Dozens of journalists have marched in Myanmar’s main city to protest against the suspension of two journals amid fears that the authorities could resort to censorship laws used by the military-led regime.
The Voice Weekly and The Envoy were suspended last week for failing to submit stories for pre-publication scrutiny, the chief censor told AFP news agency, adding the “temporary suspension” may last for a fortnight.
The reporters, many wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Stop Killing [the] Press” in Burmese and English marched to several sites across Yangon on Saturday. They were joined by the two publishing houses behind the suspended weeklies.
Stifling censorship was one of the key symbols of military-led Myanmar, where even seemingly innocuous details were scrubbed from public discussion and publications were frequently pulled for comments deemed damaging to the authoritarian rulers.
The government had recently given controversial publications more leeway as part of reforms sweeping the former army-ruled nation, prompting some editors to test the boundaries of the new found freedoms.
In June Tint Swe, head of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD), told the AFP news agency there “will be no press scrutiny job” from the end of that month, also insisting there will “be no monitoring” of local journals and magazines.
A petition by the newly-formed press freedom committee called for an end to all “oppressive” media laws.
“We have seven demands which we are sending in a letter to the president to remove the oppressive laws covering the media,” Zaw Thet Htwe, a spokesman for the independent committee told AFP by telephone.
The demands include an immediate lifting of suspensions of the publications, scrapping censorship and a promise to consult journalists on the crafting of a new media law, he added.
The editor of The Voice Weekly, Kyaw Min Swe, last week said the ban on his publication related to the front page story on a cabinet reshuffle and cartoons criticising the current media freedoms in the country.
A more open climate has seen private weekly news publications publish an increasingly bold range of stories, including those about Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader whose very name was taboo in the past.
On Saturday Tint Swe refuted accusations the suspensions were a backwards step.
“We temporarily suspended the publishing of two journals as they didn’t submit some of their stories to the scrutiny board according to the rules,” he told AFP.
“We have co-operated with the local journals lately as we didn’t want to take any actions against them. It is completely untrue that we are turning back.”