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By-election shows greater respect for press freedom, says IPI

UPDATE: Joint letter to Barack Obama regarding sanctions (HRW, 24 April 2012)

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, Apr. 2, 2012 - Burma has experienced great political change over the past year, including a welcomed reform of the country's media laws in June 2011 that allowed some publications to publish stories without previous approval by the government's Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD).

Yesterday Burma saw a historic by-election, which the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) claims marks the beginning of a new era. NLD officials said they believed the party has won almost all of the 45 parliamentary seats that were available, the BBC reported. The Election Commission has yet to announce the final results.

A representative of a formerly exiled Burmese news agency, Mizzima News, told IPI over the telephone that on the whole the election was free and fair, especially in comparison to previous elections. "Reporters inside Burma were able to interview people and take photos," an editor at Mizzima News said.

Ahead of the elections, Burma's Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) issued a list of "Do's and don'ts for the media covering the by-elections of Myanmar," BurmaNet News reported. Restrictions included a ban on taking photographs or conducting interviews within 500 meters of a polling station.

Earlier this month, Burma's Ministry of Information and Culture held consultations with numerous independent media experts as part of a process aimed at drafting a new media law, which the government expects to implement later this year. While Burma has committed to press freedom, observers have expressed concern about what the highly anticipated media law will contain.

Mizzima News, which played a key role in the consultation process, expressed hope that the new media law may bring about greater freedom. "The current media laws have been used as a tool of oppression," an editor at Mizzima News told IPI. He went on to say that "since last year, press freedom has improved, and we are hoping to have a better atmosphere for media and journalists. We are pushing the government to stop restrictions."

IPI Press Freedom Manager, Barbara Trionfi, said: "IPI is cautiously optimistic about press freedom developments in Burma. Burma has allowed many of its journalists who had been living in exile to return to the country and participate in the reform process. This is a very important development. However, the country still has a long way to go to ensure the respect of press freedom."

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