Originally enacted in 2015, offences under the Broadcasting Law include broadcasting without a licence or after a licence’s suspension, and securing multiple licenses. Made without any public consultation, the amendments expand the scope of the law and significantly increase penalties for these offences.
The law originally applied only to television and radio, however, the new amendments vaguely define ‘broadcasting’ as including “any other technology” that people use to access audio-visual media. This definition effectively extends the law to include social media and digital news agencies and means the general public could potentially fall under the amended law when distributing audio-visual media online.
While violations previously only attracted fines, those convicted could now face prison sentences ranging from six months to five years, bringing penalties in line with those of criminal offences.
In addition, a new section named '105-a' grants police the authority to make arrests for offences under the law without a judicial warrant. In its analysis of the amendments, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) raised concerns that the changes permit authorities to bypass criminal due process.
In a statement, CLD said that each amendment to the formerly progressive Broadcasting Law contravened various human rights standards. “When one considers the amendments as a package, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the real aim is to criminalise online behaviour which is critical of the military regime,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “If so, these amendments represent yet one more measure by the regime to control freedom of expression in the country.”
Myanmar’s media workers have suffered relentless persecution since the military coup on February 1, 2021. The crackdown saw over 100 journalists arrested and the licences of at least nine independent media outlets revoked.
The IFJ said: “The extreme changes to the Broadcasting Law jeopardise media freedoms and human rights in Myanmar. The amendment of definitions like ‘broadcasting’ to include any number of online activities is a thinly veiled attempt to control dissent. The IFJ calls on Myanmar’s administration to revoke its regressive amendments, uphold international human rights standards, and commit to developing a free and democratic mediascape.”