Myanmar abolished direct censorship of the media Monday 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 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 Monday. The head of the ministry's Press Scrutiny and Registration Department, Tint Swe, also conveyed the news to a group of editors in the country's main city Yangon.
The move had been expected for months but was repeatedly delayed as the government struggles to draft a new media law to overhaul the industry here.
Myanmar media 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. They have been used repeatedly in recent years to jail members of the press.
Nyein Nyein Naing welcomed the government announcement, as did other journalists in Myanmar. But she added: "We have to be very cautious as (the state censor board) will keep monitoring us."
Monday's announcement means that more than 140 newspapers and magazines focused on things like politics and religion will have the same freedoms.
But media insiders said that independent papers were not yet allowed to publish on a daily basis, despite the change.