Yangon: Myanmar abolished direct media censorship on Monday, the latest dramatic reform by its quasi-civilian regime, but journalists face other formidable restrictions including a ban on private daily newspapers and a pervasive culture of self-censorship.

Under the new rules, journalists no longer have to submit reports to state censors before publication, ending a practice strictly enforced during nearly half a century of military rule that ended in March last year.

Previously, every song, book, cartoon, news report and planned piece of art required approval by teams of censors rooting out political messages and criticisms of one of Asia’s most repressive governments.

A file photo of a man reading a local newspaper in Yangon. Photo: Getty Images

On Monday, restrictions were lifted on the remaining 80 political and six religious journals, said Tint Swe, head of the press censorship board at the ministry of information.

Over the past year, Myanmar, also known as Burma, has introduced the most sweeping reforms in the former British colony since a 1962 military coup. A semi-civilian government, stacked with former generals, has allowed elections, eased rules on protests and freed dissidents among other changes.

Papers have since been testing the boundaries, often putting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on front pages and giving coverage to government critics. Editors say this was unthinkable before the middle of last year.

But while the authorities can no longer count on the same strictly controlled media that was ranked 169th of 179 nations in a global press freedom index by anti-censorship group Reporters Without Borders last year, significant restrictions remain.

Privately run daily newspapers are still not permitted, leaving a monopoly to state-run papers filled with propaganda. It was only last year that they dropped back-page banners attacking Western media for “sowing hatred".

Asked about the chance of ending a ban on private dailies, Tint Swe said: “We can say it has become closer than before. It could happen after enacting the necessary media law."

Journalists also said they still feared their reports could fall foul of various laws on the statute book, especially when covering issues deemed sensitive to national security.

Remaining Orwellian laws include the Electronic Transaction Law, enacted in April 2004. It says “whoever receives or sends or distributes any information relating to secrets of the security of the state" can face up to 15 years in prison. With that law in place, media will still be choosing their words carefully.

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