The Burmese government said Monday it was lifting a ban on publication of two weekly journals amid local media protests against government censorship.
Several dailies blacked out their front pages in the latest action by the Burmese media pushing for freedom of expression as the country enters a new period of liberalization under President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government after decades of military rule.
The government's Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), which requires media outlets to submit articles for approval before publication, summoned editors of the Voice Weekly and Envoy magazines Monday and told them that their suspension would be lifted next week.
The journals had been told that the suspension periods were indefinite when informed of the ban last week and were asked to follow the regulations set down by the PSRD and the repressive Printers and Publishers Act enacted after a 1962 military coup.
No specific reasons were given for the suspension at that time, but the two had carried speculative reports on an expected cabinet reshuffle that may have ruffled government feathers.
"The censorship board called in the editors of the two journals today. They said the newspapers would be allowed to publish again and can resume publication next week," Voice chief editor Kyaw Min Swe told RFA. "We were told the suspension was only for two weeks."
The PSRD's decision to let the newspapers off the hook came after weekend protests by journalists in the cities of Rangoon, Mandalay, and Monywa over continuing restrictions on press freedom.
They donned black T-shirts that read “Stop Killing Media” and collected signatures from fellow journalists for a petition addressed to Thein Sein seeking an end to censorship.
According to one source, Thein Sein is believed to have allayed concerns over tightening media censorship at a meeting with about a dozen political parties at the weekend.
Still, several newspapers, including the Nation and the Messenger, blacked out their front pages to underline their anger over the increasing government censorship.
The Messenger, quoting the Burmese Constitution, wrote in white on the front page's black background that "everyone has the right to express, write, and publish freely."
"We published it like this because we want to highlight the clamor by citizens for freedom of expression," Thura, the chief editor of the Messenger, told RFA.
Thet Zin, the chief editor of the Nation, told RFA that the move was also to stress that while "newspapers were keen to cooperate with the censorship board, they do not want to cooperate with us."
More journals to be published this week are expected to have similar covers, according to the Irrawaddy exile online journal.
It said after the suspension of the two weeklies, nearly 100 journalists formed a group called the Committee for Freedom of the Press, which organized the weekend protest rally in which journalists went to six media offices to gather signatures for the petition to Thein Sein.
“News media are still being censored,” says the petition drafted by the committee. “The recent suspension of [the two publications] shows the threats media face and the negative signs that exist despite the democratization process of Myanmar [Burma].”
Journalists at the event called it historic, the Irrawaddy reported.
“I’ve been working in media for 14 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Kyaw Naing, an editor from Voice Weekly. “We’ve never had the opportunity to speak our minds on press freedoms.”
News on the weekend protests was, however, deemed unfit for publication.
Thant Zin, chief editor of the Nation, said it had hoped to publish a story on its front page and sent a draft to the censorship board, as required under current media regulations.
“We were informed by the censorship board that this news is not allowed to be published,” he was quoted by the Irrawaddy as saying.
Reported by Khin Moh Moh of RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.