Myanmar on Monday abolished direct censorship of the media in the most dramatic move yet toward allowing freedom of expression in the long-repressed nation

Myanmar on Monday abolished direct censorship of the media in the most dramatic move yet toward allowing freedom of expression in the long-repressed nation. But related laws and practices that may lead to self-censorship raise doubt about how much will change.

Under the new rules, journalists will no longer have to submit their work to state censors before publication as they did for almost half a century. However, the same harsh laws that have allowed Myanmar’s rulers to jail, blacklist and control the media in the name of protecting national security remain unchanged and on the books.

For decades, this Southeast Asian nation’s reporters had been regarded as among the most restricted in the world, subjected to routine state surveillance, phone taps and censorship so intense that independent papers could not publish on a daily basis.

President Thein Sein’s reformist government has significantly relaxed media controls over the last year, though, allowing reporters to print material that would have been unthinkable during the era of absolute military rule like photographs of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Information Ministry, which has long controlled what can be printed, made the announcement on its website on Monday. The head of the Ministry’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department, Tint Swe, also conveyed the news to a group of editors in Yangon.

New law

The move was expected for months but was repeatedly delayed as the government struggled to draft a new media law to overhaul the industry here.

Tint Swe previously said the censor board itself would be abolished when censorship ends. But Monday’s announcement indicated the board will stay and retain the powers it has always had to suspend publications or revoke publishing licences if they deem publishing rules are violated.

Those laws, in place since a military coup in 1962, include edicts prohibiting journalists from writing articles that could threaten peace and stability, oppose the Constitution or insult ethnic groups.

Critics say some laws are open to interpretation and give the government enormous power to go after its critics.

It was not immediately clear to what degree continued government scrutiny could lead to self-censorship. Some topics remain highly sensitive like corruption and alleged abuses committed by army officers during the previous ruling junta.

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