Myanmar 'stepping towards freedom of speech'

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On April 1st this year, Myanmar's government lifted a restriction on media censorship for the first time in half a century. Since then, new 13 daily newspapers have been created, and it's not just the print media that's paving the way to democracy.

On April 1st this year, Myanmar's government lifted a restriction on media censorship for the first time in half a century. 

Since then, 13 new daily newspapers have been created as the country steps tentatively towards democracy.

Dateline's Anjali Rao has visited Myanmar's old and new capitals for a look at its emerging freedoms.

“It’s a booming media scene,” said Australian Ross Dunkley, who set up the nation’s first independent weekly newspaper, Myanmar Times.

“With the relaxation of censorship in the last six months, we’ve had 13 dailies open up,” he said.

But it's not just the print media that's paving the way to democracy.

Until recently, comedians like Zarganar had to submit their jokes to the government for approval, but he says now there are no such restrictions.

Among his audience, there was even a former military officer.

"This is the first time in history for our country. Everyone can watch and every comedian can speak their jokes freely. There is no censor. No ban," said Zarganar. 

The Me N Ma Girls pop group could be described as the new face of Myanmar. Modelled on The Spice Girls, they’ve already won fans at home and a record contract in the US, but it would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

“We have freedom and we can sing whatever we want… we are still pushing the boundaries,” the girls told Dateline. “We support our president to get good democracy… we just want to go forward, that’s all we need to do and all we want to do.”

But even with those changes, hundreds of political prisoners still remain in detention, and every month, more are arrested and tried.

More than 60 Muslims were killed in recent violent clashes with Buddhists.

“We still have a long way to go to reach that point of no return,” said veteran journalist and former political prisoner Thiha Saw.

Myanmar Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut said that's about to change.

"That's what the President said that at the end of this year so, he promised that there would be no more political prisoners in our country". 

See this Dateline Special tonight at 9.30pm on SBS ONE, and read more now on the Dateline website.

Source SBS

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