MEDIA, CENSORSHIP AND PROPAGANDA IN MYANMAR

MEDIA IN MYANMAR

Myanmar has kept tight control over all aspects of media and communications for some 50 years. It tried to cut off the local population from the outside world but blocking media it didn’t control. Under the junta articles deemed inflammatory or dissenting were often torn from newspapers and magazines or inked out altogether. After independence in 1948, Burma had a big and vibrant daily press in the Burmese, English, Indian and Chinese languages. A civilian government has been gradually easing restrictions since taking office in 2011.

Myanmar's televised media remain strictly controlled by the government, most foreign journalists are barred from reporting in the country and most foreign media websites remain blocked. The information ministry oversees local and foreign media and the film industry, and has supervised the approval of visas for foreign correspondents. Before the junta-era media laws were scrapped, Myanmar ranked 11th worst in the world for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders. In 2013, after media laws were changed, it ranked 18th worst under the Press Freedom Index.

When he gave an address in 2013, Myanmar President Thein Sein said he chose to deliver his remarks by radio because most of Myanmar’s impoverished citizens do not have television. [Source: Associated Press, January 1st, 2013]

Reporting from Yangon, Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “Many private homes, no matter how ramshackle, have satellite dishes to catch Western news. And though few people can afford their own computers or even their own telephones, logging in to international news sites is easy at Internet cafes, so many here have access to the latest information. [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 24, 2007 \\\]

Aung San Suu Kyi told the Washington Post in 2012: There is no real freedom of the press yet. When I was released last year, I think we didn’t have half the number of journalists and publications that we have now. Within the last year, the number of publications have proliferated. Yes. The censorship laws have been relaxed considerably. When I was released, I couldn’t publish anything under my name. [Source: Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 20, 2012]

See Separate Article TELEVISION, RADIO AND NEWSPAPERS IN MYANMAR

Propaganda in Myanmar

Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Xenophobic propaganda is one of the ways the generals rally support and scare off dissent, so Myanmar's people are bombarded with it. A billboard on a busy downtown street corner in Yangon, also known as Rangoon, declares: "Oppose those who rely on America, act as their stooges and hold negative views." [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2008 **]

Militarist murals on the streets of Yangon, likes those found in Maoist China, have slogans like "Love Your Motherland, Respect the Law," and "Oppose Those Relying on External Elements." Newspaper headlines read: "Secretary 1 attended marionette event of Windur Drama Contest," "masses in Dhane State (North) denounced destructive acts that harm peace, stability and progress." Near the airports are signs in Burmese and English: “Oppose those relying on external elements acting as stooges holding negative views” and “Oppose foreign nationals interfering in the internal affairs of the State.” [Source: The Independent; Jamie James, Natural History magazine, June 2008]

During the Saffron Revolution protests in 2007, a commentary in the Myanmar-language Myanma Ahlin daily read: "Recent protests in the country were created by the loudmouthed bully, using the exiled dissidents and traitors together with communists, internal and external anti-government destructionists.” "Loudmouthed Bully" is usually a reference to the United States. According to Associated Press: “The author, who called himself Maung Pwint Lin -- roughly meaning Mr. Frankly Speaking -- said the U.S. had tried to revive the mass uprisings of 1988 in Myanmar in connivance with "exiled dissidents and internal axe-handles" in order to install a puppet government. The propaganda campaign includes billboard signs saying, "Those who rely on America are axe-handles." Axe-handle is jargon used by the junta to mean traitors or puppets. Junta commentaries in the past have referred to the U.S. as "a super power nation," but articles in the state-run media have recently begun naming the U.S. and accusing it of instigating unrest. [Source: AP, October 28, 2007]

Freedom of the Press and Freedom Expression

Until fairly recently Myanmar had one the worlds’s most unfree presses. According to Freedom House: “The 2008 Burmese constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, but these rights are not respected in practice, and many draconian laws still stand as impediments to media freedom. The 2004 Electronics Transactions Law prohibits any individual or group from sending electronically information regarding government issues, national security, or any message of a cultural or economic nature. In addition, Section 22 of the Penal Code of Burma 1957 outlaws criticism of the government or state in any media publication or broadcast. In the second half of 2011, the Burmese media began reporting on a purported draft of a new media law being readied by the government. By all accounts, the law remains “problematic.” As written, it suggests the state would allow greater tolerance for private media, but it would not necessarily give up its control of all forms of mass media. The Ministry of Information only issues licenses to private publishers if they print government-approved material exclusively, and the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department can suspend licenses of publications that print objectionable material. Publications regularly face suspension if they run afoul of the authorities.[Source: Freedom House ///]

“While there was some improvement in the extent of official censorship, the majority of private periodicals remain subject to prepublication censorship under the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, which requires that all content be approved by the authorities. Under censorship rules announced in 2005, media outlets are allowed to offer “constructive” criticism of government projects and report on sensitive issues such as natural disasters and poverty, provided the coverage does not affect the national interest. In March 2011, the authorities announced that censorship policies would be relaxed when the new government took office. This change took effect in June when 178 journals and magazines—mostly those that cover subjects including sports, health, children, and technology—were given permission to publish without prior approval, though the censorship board issued warnings to some newspapers and magazines because they were thought to have published culturally inappropriate material. Nevertheless, an attempt by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to publish an article in August faced potential cuts by the censorship board, and it was withdrawn. ///

Improvements in Freedom of the Press and Freedom Expression

According to Freedom House: “Tentative openings in the general political environment—including parliamentary elections held in November 2010, the emergence of a functioning legislature and nominally civilian government, the election of former general Thein Sein as president in March 2011, and increased space for political parties to operate—also led to changes in the media landscape in Burma during 2011. Positive developments included the release of imprisoned bloggers, a softening of official censorship, fewer reports of harassment and attacks against journalists, and an increase in the number of private media outlets, which led to somewhat more diversity of content and less self-censorship. In addition, a number of exiled journalists were able to return to the country. But despite greater journalistic freedom and access to news and information, Burma remained one of the most repressive countries in Asia.[Source: Freedom House ///]

“Though self-censorship remains widespread, the Burmese press continued to push the envelope in 2011. As well as covering social issues such as health, education, and the environment, some media outlets became increasingly assertive in their coverage of political news, addressing topics that have in the past been considered off limits, including the activities of Suu Kyi and the conduct of the new parliament. Throughout the year, foreign embassies and international media development organizations hosted training sessions, seminars, and forums. Foreign journalists also found it much easier to obtain entry visas. In addition, given the changes in the country, several exiled media organizations sent representatives back home to explore the possibility of reopening media outlets based in Burma. A number of prominent media groups also found that government officials have been more accessible than in the past. ///

“Media concentration remains high, even though a number of formerly exiled media organizations have begun opening outlets in the country. The government owns or controls all domestic broadcast media and daily newspapers, and exercises tight control over a growing number of privately owned weekly and monthly publications. In February 2011, the government took control of the Myanmar Times and arrested its Australian editor and part-owner, Ross Dunkley, who was first charged with immigration violations but was later accused of attacking and drugging a supposed prostitute. However, the charges came amid a series of disputes among the owners of the paper; Dunkley also had a history of tense relations with the Burmese authorities due to the paper’s coverage of certain topics. ///

“Authorities restrict the importation of foreign news periodicals. Due to high levels of poverty and illiteracy, as well as poor infrastructure and distribution networks, print media are accessible mainly in urban areas and broadcast outlets are the main source of news for most citizens. Although some people have access to international shortwave radio or satellite television, those caught accessing foreign broadcasts can be arrested. Nevertheless, as the only source of uncensored information, foreign radio programs produced by the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia, and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) are very popular. The monthly subscription fees to access satellite channels are high, so most Burmese viewers install the receivers illegally. ///

2012 Scores: Press Status: Not Free; Press Freedom Score: 85; Legal Environment: 28; Political Environment: 31; Economic Environment; 26.

History of Media and Press Laws in Myanmar

The Printers and Publishers Registration Law of1962 requires publishers to submit copies of books and magazines to the Press Scrutiny Boards prior to publication. The board still exists. The law sent many editors and journalists as well as activists sent to jail. It has ordered publishers to register all printing presses, empowered police to seize material published without approval and a carried a maximum three-year prison term -- and a fine -- for anyone in breach.

Violating the nation's strict publishing law was a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison. Entire newspapers have been shut because of their reports and many reporters have been jailed.

Yasmin Lee of Asia News Network wrote: “Myanmar’s media has been active even before the British colonized the country in 1824. During the colonisation period, the number of publications increased and reached over200 by the end of the 1930s, according to the Journal of Asian Studies. In 1948, when Myanmar gained independence from the United Kingdom, the country’s media was one of the freest in Asia. But that freedom was clamped down shortly after the March 1962 coup d’etat when several journalists were arrested and publications were shut down. The number of newspapers decreased to eight from 30 by 1988. [Source: Yasmin Lee, Asia News Network, September 21-October 4, 2012 <<]

Under General Ne Win, who ruled from 1962 to 1988, the media became a monopoly of the military junta. Even after Ne Win was replaced, journalists continued to be harassed, arrested and jailed, including prominent journalist Ohn Kyaing. Ohn Kyaing, the former editor of Kyemon and Hanthawaddy. Myanmar, was accused of “writing and distributing seditious pamphlets”and “threatening state security”. He was arrested in 1990 and sentenced to 17 years in prison. He was released in 2005 after 16 years, joined the National League for Democracy and was elected as representative of Mandalay. Ohn Kyaing says the media has been instrumental in fighting for a freer Myanmar. <<

Restrictions on Foreign Journalists

Foreign journalist are carefully watched and sometimes have minders. Their E-mail is read, Many may enter the country as tourists. Guides who accompany them often write in their notebooks what people tell them. Burmese who talk to journalist run of the risk of torture and imprisonment.

International reporters are rarely allowed into the country, except to cover the annual military parade. The information ministry supervises the approval of visas for foreign correspondents. The author of “Finding George Orwell In Burma,” Emma Larkin wrote: “Foreign writers and journalists are denied entry to Burma. Occasionally some are able to slip into the country posing as tourists, but if they are discovered their notebooks and photographic film are confiscated and they are swiftly deported. For the Burmese people they interview, the repercussions are infinitely greater. Under the country's 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, providing foreigners with information that the regime considers inimical is punishable with a seven-year prison sentence. Though I worked as a journalist, I rarely wrote about Burma and so it was still possible for me to blend in among tourists or the small expatriate community of business people who are granted long-stay visas. In basing a book on my experiences there were concessions to be made: I would have to change the names of the Burmese people I spoke with and, in some cases, their locations. But, if I was careful, it would be possible to forge a pathway through this seemingly impenetrable country. [Source: Emma Larkin, July 28, 2010; Excerpted from Finding George Orwell In Burma by Emma Larkin. Copyright 2004 by Emma Larkin. Excerpted by permission of the Penguin Press.]

Steven Martin wrote in Time magazine, “ For “occupation” on the application form I wrote “graphic artist.” The Burmese government doesn't grant tourist visas to writers, and not without reason. Writers rarely have anything nice to say about the ruling military junta. [Source: Steven Martin, Time magazine, 2002]

Arrested Journalists in Myanmar

Freedom House reported in 2012: Despite fewer reports of harassment and attacks, instances of retribution against journalists remained a problem in 2011. Before the new government took office, a local video journalist was sentenced in February to 13 years in prison for violating the Electronics Act. The year did see the release of a number of journalists from prison, including five reporters in May. In October, Maung Thura, a blogger and comedian popularly known as Zarganar, was released from prison along with dozens of other political prisoners. He had originally been sentenced in 2008 to 59 years behind bars for violating the Electronics Transactions Law by publicly castigating the military regime for their delayed response to Cyclone Nargis, which claimed the lives of over 100,000 people. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), even after the release of Maung, Burma remained the fourth-worst jailer of journalists in the world, with 12 still behind bars at year’s end. [Source: Freedom House]

Editors who anger the government run the risk of arrest. Many couldn’t stand the environment any more and fled to Thailand. U Tin Muang Than told the New York Times, “Two or three years in prison is okay. But more than 10 years, the cost is too high.

In August 2008, a magazine journalist was jailed on suspicion of providing information to a website critical of the military regime, he was released two months later.

In August 2011. An army captain—33-year-old May Myo Zin—was sentenced to 10 years in prison for writing and sending articles critical of the government to the Democratic Voice of Burma and other dissident groups. In a closed-door trial held in infamous Insein prison he was found guilty of violating the Electronics Act and tarnishing the army’s reputation, He was arrested at an Internet café in Yangon.

In December 2010, a reporter—21-year-old Sithu Zeya—was sentenced to eight years in prison for sending images of a bomb blast to the Democratic Voice of Burma. He was given three years for sending information to an illegal exile group and five years for immigrations violations.

In February 2011, Ross Dunkley, an Australian editor and cofounder of the Myanmar Times, the country’s only newspaper with foreign funding, was arresting on charges of assaulting a 29-year-old woman. He was also charged with breaching immigration rules and has held at Insein prison.

Censorship in Myanmar

Until fairly recently Myanmar had very strict censorship rules. Independent dailies were banned and weekly newspapers had to submit their content to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department after they went to print.

Pre-publication censorship was a hallmark of life under the generals. It applied to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales. Among the subjects declared off limits have been reports on mosquitos, droughts, poor performance by the national soccer team, and preferential treatment given to some officials. Self-censorship is widely practiced. Articles are not read until after a publication has been published. If the censors see something wrong they demand a recall of the publications and demand that new copies to be printed. When this happens it so expensive for publishers it can bankrupt them.

On censors, editor U Tin Maung Tham told the New York Times, they “are neither smart or fools. They are regular guys. Sometimes they are interested in their work. They get bored. Sometimes we intentionally make an article long so it will be boring for them to censor. But we have to strike a balance. because we do not want to make it boring for readers, too.”

The Los Angeles Times reported: “For decades, Myanmar has tried to keep its people isolated from the outside world and its dangerous ideas about freedom. "Decadent alien culture such as scanty dresses is unacceptable," the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a regime mouthpiece, lectured recently. "Appropriate measures need to be taken by one and all to protect our own culture." ... Decades of isolation have left their mark. Myanmar largely skipped black-and-white TV and went straight to color satellite. It all but missed Madonna for Beyonce and Lady Gaga. [Source: Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2011 /\]

“Burmese advertising and media executives say they're constantly skirting the regime's red line. Readers love photos of pop singers with cleavage and short skirts, but these risk the censors' wrath. Some acknowledge using Photoshop to "lengthen" celebrity clothing. "When you take risks, readers love it," said one editor, who, like others for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity. "But you have to balance this against some general who sees the magazine and complains." Getting it wrong risks punishment. Popular Journal magazine was shuttered for a week last summer after running several covers adorned with racy models. /\

Yasmin Lee of the Asia News Network wrote: “Po Naing Lin, editor of political journal Popular News, cited several instances when they had to kick out a story on the day of printing.“There were many difficulties like they wanted to change the title or remove the news. But the hardest part was when they told us to keep the story but remove the most crucial point. That’s not news anymore so we had to let it go,”he says in a separate interview. [Source: Yasmin Lee, Asia News Network, September 21-October 4, 2012]

Fighting and Getting Around Censorship in Myanmar

Some editors attempt to write stories that send messages written between the lines. There is an art to writing these kind of stores, using hidden references, metaphors and comparisons. If the stories are too nuanced the readers don’t pick up the message. If they are too obvious the censors catch them.

The editor U Tin Maung Tham told the New York Times, “You cannot criticize. You have to give hints that you are being critical...The hints are in your choice of words and your tones and your composition. You us words with ‘double meanings.’” He said he wrote about education in the British colonial period to draw attention to education problems today he wrote about flag burring in the United States, ostensibly to criticize the United States but in reality to drw attention to freedom there.

Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The Saw Wai was arrested on suspicion of writing a coded anti-government message in a Valentine's verse published in a popular entertainment weekly. In Burmese, the first character of each word spells out: "Power crazy Senior General Than Shwe," referring to the military government's leader. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2008 **]

Yasmin Lee of the Asia News Network wrote: “Anonymous sources are very common in local media because of the culture of fear among the public especially in discussing controversial issues. Than says the media is often left with no choice and takes the risk of quoting anonymous sources in order to publish news. “Even if there is censorship and they are blocked, the media tries its best even if they are struggling very hard,” he tells Asia News. But even if the local media tries to steer clear of controversial issues, they still encounter problems especially before the information ministry changed the publication process. [Source:Yasmin Lee, Asia News Network, September 21-October 4, 2012]

End of Censorship in Myanmar

The government abolished most media censorship on August 20, 2012 but Orwellian laws remain. In August 2012, Kenneth Denby wrote in the Times of London, “Burma announced the end of five decades of press censorship yesterday, the latest reform in the former military dictatorship’s dramatic programme of democratisation. The announcement, posted on the Ministry of Information website and taking effect immediately, comes after a vigorous anti-censorship campaign by young Burmese journalists, who marched through the cities of Rangoon and Mandalay wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Stop Killing the Press”. [Source: Kenneth Denby, Times of London , August 21 2012 :::]

“Since the current President of Burma, Thein Sein, came to power as the junta’s first technically civilian leader last year, the political situation in Burma has been transformed. Censorship was relaxed last year for many publications, and the look and tone of the Burmese media has been transformed, with weekly newspapers devoting pages of articles and photographs to Ms Suu Kyi and her activities, a subject previously banned. But until today editors of journals covering politics and religious affairs were still required by law to present page proofs to censors, who would order the removal of anything even mildly critical or suggestive of failure by the authorities. Those who failed to comply faced sanctions ranging from suspension of the publication through to closure and imprisonment. :::

The BBC reported: “Burma has abolished pre-publication censorship of the country's media, the information ministry has announced. The Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD) said that reporters would no longer have to submit their work to state censors before publication. However, strict laws remain in place which could see journalists punished for what they have written. "Censorship began on 6 August 1964 and ended 48 years and two weeks later," Tint Swe, head of the PSRD, told AFP news agency. [Source: BBC, August 20, 2012 }{]

"Any publication inside the country will not have to get prior permission from us before they are published. From now on, our department will just carry out registering publications for keeping them at the national archives and issuing a license to printers and publishers," he said. Tint Swe said the likelihood of permission being granted for private newspapers to be set up was "closer than before" and could happen after a new media law is enacted. A ministry official told AFP films would still be subject to censorship. }{

“In the months before the changes private weekly news journals were allowed for the first time to publish an increasingly bold range of stories, most notably about opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Reporters jailed under the junta were set free from long prison terms. "Five years ago we couldn't write about politics and democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi was not part of our media coverage. We couldn't use the phrase 'military regime'. Now we can!" editor Nyein Nyein Naing told AFP. }{

“Journalists had been given guidelines allowing them to write about controversial topics, something that would have been unthinkable under the previous military rule. Some 300 newspapers and magazines covering less sensitive issues had already been given permission to print without prior censorship and restrictions were lifted on 30,000 internet sites, allowing users unrestricted access to political content for the first time. }{

Is It Really End of Censorship in Myanmar?

Yasmin Lee of Asia News Network wrote: “The government announced on August 20, 2012 that it was changing the censorship law. International media promptly reported that censorship has been lifted in Myanmar but local editor sand journalists point out that this is not so.“These are just changes in procedure but the rules are still there,” Dr Than Htut Aung, chairman and CEO of Eleven Media Group, told Asia News . “You still cannot publish what you want to write, freely.” [Source: Yasmin Lee, Asia News Network, September 21-October 4, 2012 >>]

Wai Phyo, editor of the Weekly Eleven journal, told Reuters the move was "a big improvement on the past", but that editors would now be under increasing pressure to ensure their publications remained legal. The Printers and Publishers Registration Law of1962 requires publishers to submit copies of books and magazines to the Press Scrutiny Boards prior to publication. The board still exists. This kind of environment, Than says, may result in self-censorship.“The burden now is on the owners and editors to take more responsibility towards media ethics,” he says. However, he explains that some officials may “misinterpret” and “mis-use” media ethics to fit their agenda, like citing stories with anonymous sources as “unethical”. >>

"Many of the restrictions, laws and regulations that were applied under the old regime will continue to apply under this new system," said Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Journalists still run the risk of being imprisoned, harassed and intimidated for their journalism, so for us it's a half measure at best." [Source: Shwe Yinn Mar Oo, AFP, August 23, 2012 <<]

Shwe Yinn Mar Oo of AFP wrote: “Myanmar's censorship board itself has not been abolished and weekly newspapers -- independent dailies are still banned -- will have to submit their content to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department after they go to print. Journalists still live under the shadow of the 1962 Printing Act, which saw many publishers, editors and journalists as well as activists sent to jail during almost half a century of military rule that ended last year. The law ordered publishers to register all printing presses, empowered police to seize material published without approval and a carried a maximum three-year prison term -- and a fine -- for anyone in breach. "As long as the 1962 law stands without being amended, real press freedom will always be in question," said Nyein Nyein Naing, executive editor at the 7Days News weekly paper. <<

“The media also complain that there was not enough consultation about a new press law that was drafted by the information ministry. In what campaigners criticised as a backward step, two journals were recently suspended for a fortnight for printing stories without prior approval from the censors. And the mining ministry has filed a criminal defamation suit against The Voice Weekly, which reported that the auditor-general's office had discovered misappropriations of funds and fraud at the government division. "We question still the sincerity of these moves," said Crispin. "They seem to be giving just enough to try to win the next concession from the West and then, when they get that, resorting to their old wicked ways." <<

Young journalists like Thw Lwin Phyo are happy over these recent developments but remain cautious.“Now that censorship is ended, I feel light and free but I’m worried on what’s going to happen next,”says Thw Lwin Pyo who covers real estate and admires renowned Burmese journalist Lu Htu Sein Win.He has dreamt of becoming a journalist since he was young but he was also interested in espionage and investigation. He thinks that by go-ing into journalism, he can combine his two areas of interests.“At this moment, I don’t see any transparency,” he says on the reforms in the media industry. “Just to be safe, I have to make sure all my details and information are correct. But I expect I can write everything freely by 2013.”Po Naing Lin says: “[The Myan-mar press] is not 100 per cent free. Maybe some is free but not 100 percent.”But Ohn Kyaing is hopeful that Myanmar media will be totally free one day.“We have to change the situation gradually but it won’t be very long, <<

Media in Myanmar Worry That Freedom Is Already Slipping Away

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “When Mizzima moved its headquarters to Yangon in 2012 from India, media watchers saw it as a sign that political reform in Myanmar was real. For more than a decade, the media group has published hard-hitting coverage of military corruption and Myanmar's dismal human rights record, and many saw its arrival as a bellwether of the regime's tolerance. By 2013 there growing concerns about backsliding after the government sent a draft press law to the parliament March that bears an unsettling resemblance to the draconian 1962 media law. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2013==]

“Media organizations here say the measure's vague wording — submitted without consulting media industry leaders — opens journalists to abuse, as do provisions that include a six-month jail sentence for license violations and a ban on criticizing the military-drafted constitution. In late January, the government also quietly established a committee staffed with members of the military and the Information and Home Affairs ministries to oversee journalists. ==

“Political analysts say the nominally civilian government elected in 2011, which is still controlled by the military, is afraid of losing control. After a honeymoon period of glowing coverage of its release of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, more open policies and freed political prisoners, the government is facing increasingly negative reports about ethnic conflict, corruption and land grabs. ==

And although President Thein Sein recently held the first government news conference in decades and newly elected Information Minister Aung Kyi appears relatively open-minded, critics say officials are finding it difficult to alter their mind-set after decades of absolute power and censorship."The Ministry of Information understands it has to change its image," said Ye Naing Moe, director of the Yangon Journalism School, who has conducted media training courses for officials in the capital, Naypyidaw. "But that doesn't mean it's not still running the show." ==

“At the offices of the recently opened House of Media & Entertainment multimedia group, founders U Zaw Thet Htwe and comedian Maung Thura "Zarganar," both former political prisoners, say overt intimidation is being replaced by overly vague guidelines that can be used as authorities see fit. Guidelines issued in August warned against articles with "destructive views of state policy," those "detrimental to international friendship" or any that might "frighten the public." There's also widespread concern that the government could use defamation lawsuits — the mining ministry filed one last year before withdrawing it — in lieu of censorship, taking a cue from Singapore. Zarganar and other editors said the industry was walking a fine line: It wants to be aggressive but worries that pushing too hard could return hard-liners to power before reforms are institutionalized.” ==

Backwardness of the Myanmar Media

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Perhaps most striking in these courses, he said, is a near-complete lack of basic news understanding among officials overseeing the media. "I had to start with 'What is news?'" he said. "For them, news means a sheet from bureaucrats you're told to publish." One trainee asked Ye Naing Moe what would happen to society if independent news media were allowed. The official registered near-disbelief at his response: You'd be able to read seven newspaper versions, not just one."It's a bit like Chicken Little thinking the sky is falling in," Ye Naing Moe said. "I tried to encourage them to come out of their cave." [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2013==]

“Another challenge for the government is transforming its long-standing state-run mouthpieces into "public service" media that people want to read or watch. A trainer who recently worked at the government's MRTV network said passivity among the technologically challenged staff members was deep-seated after decades of being told what to do. "They still write scripts out by hand!" he said. But some are skeptical. "Forget about the central government, they don't even dare touch local issues," said editor Sein Win. "How can they ever be 'public service'?" ==

It isn't just the government that's finding its feet, however. Companies are also grappling with rapid change after decades of a sheltered existence. This month, the state has approved eight "temporary" licenses for private daily newspapers, something that's been banned for decades. That sparked a rapid expansion in an industry with little experience, critics say. "We need more than freedom, we need professionalism," said Ma Thida, executive editor of the Myanmar Independent News Journal, a private weekly. "Many editors don't know how to edit, and no one cares about language. There are so many mistakes." ==

“Industry structure is also a concern. About 70 percent of the country's print media is based in Yangon, much of it controlled by ex-military officials or their relatives, leaving little coverage in rural areas, where most Burmese live. "Most journals are owned by tycoons and cronies, so I don't have much faith in them," said Ko Aung Soe, a farmer in Kankone, outside Mandalay. "I believe in true media, but there's none around."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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