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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1892

Burma's Media completely under military dictatorship

By Zin Linn

The press is the fourth pillar of democracy after parliament, the legislature and the judiciary. Not so in Burma, where parliament has been silenced by the military. As a result, the legislature and the judiciary are automatically defunct under the military autocracy. As a necessary outcome of the iron rule, the fourth estate also comes under the grip of military-dictatorship.

The Burmese military junta has enforced stringent censorship rules and regulations the world has ever known on the media. Every piece of text has to be scrutinized by military's PSRD before being published. Burma achieved certain notoriety as predator of the press. No information is allowed to flow or be published/ broadcast without the junta's prior approval.

The latest repressive attacks against the media took place on February 15, 2008. According to Burma Media Association (BMA), military intelligence officers carried out a four-hour search of the offices of the Myanmar Nation Journal and confiscated many documents, including a copy of Human Rights Report on Burma by Prof. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, videos of last anti-government protests in September, and hand-written poems. Police arrested editor, Thet Zin and manager, Sein Win Maung. The two journalists were taken to the Thin-gan-gyun township police station.

It was unknown why they were arrested. The police searched the premises of the Myanmar Nation for a second time on 18 February, confiscating more documents. The offices continue to be closed by the police, who have said the arrests of the two journalists are linked to their activities.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Burma Media Association (BMA) condemn the arrest of Myanmar Nation editor Thet Zin and his office manager, Sein Win Maung.

The Honolulu Community-Media Council (HCMC), which was established in 1970 and is the oldest of the 5 volunteer media councils that exist in the United States, has also joined the Burma Media Association, international journalist and human rights organizations in condemning the continued crack down on the Burmese media by the military regime. HCMC President, Chris Conybeare says: “We urge all who value human rights to join us in condemning these latest attacks and to demand the immediate release of all political prisoners of the despotic regime of General Than Shwe”.

Besides, Nobel Aye, a female freelance writer and journalist, has been arrested since 23 August 2007. In fact, she was mistakenly arrested by military for having similar pseudonym as one female student leader who was later arrested in September 2007. Nobel Aye also worked with Baby’s World Journal. Although it was a mistake, the military pay no heed to release her.

In addition, Lay Lay Mon (Teen Magazine), Min Han (poet), Nay Htet Naing (poet), Ko Ko Maung aka Zaw Lu Sein (poet) were also arrested on 2 January 2008 and thrown into Insein Prison without trials.

It is sad that the junta is abusing the media as its tool to provide false news and ideas even in time of Global Information Age. The Junta controls every media access now. In these days, because of the experiences of the 2007 September Saffron Revolution, all news media in Burma is strictly censored and tightly controlled by the military junta. All daily newspapers, radio and television stations are under the regime’s supervision. In fact, it is in vain for the junta to stop the foreign broadcastings, such as BBC, VOA, RFA and DVB.

During last September Saffron Revolution, people from former capital Rangoon and all other provincial cities received the up-to-date news footages through Aljazeera, BBC, CNN and the DVB TVs. Afterward, some IT activists put those dissenting footages into compact discs and delivered to people who could not have access to satellite dishes and Internet. Such activities allow many Burmese citizens to see news footages of the recent mass anti-government demonstrations, and the brutal crackdown that ensued.

The military regime has constantly maltreated the journalists since 27 September. On that day Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai was killed by a soldier in downtown Rangoon, at the height of the 'Saffron Revolution' last September. Japanese officials have constantly said Nagai, 50, was evidently shot at close range, not hit by stray bullets as the SPDC officials had previously explained, and demanded the return of the journalist's video camera and tapes believed to have captured the shooting, and the Japanese government is investigating his death.

After September protests, the military censorship branch, known as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), is harassing editors to bring out issues of their journals and magazines containing propaganda articles produced by the junta. Scores of writers and journalists suspected of sympathizing with the Saffron Revolution have been banned from contributing in the publications.

Members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, a junta-backed militia, keep on attacking towards journalists. Especially, photographers were beaten by the USDA thugs while taking photos during monks' protests. Numerous civilians holding camera or mobile-phone were temporarily arrested and tortured. All in all, more than a dozen journalists were beaten or treated badly during the demonstrations. In addition, several young amateur-journalists or civilian journalists were also detained and their cameras and mobile-phones were confiscated by the militia.

Burma's military exercises tight controls over the Internet, banning access to news websites such as Yahoo or Hotmail. The regime was frustrated by bloggers and the civilian journalists during anti-junta protests in September, as they provided detailed consecutive accounts of the bloodshed and helped spread the news. The junta disconnected the nation's Internet links at the height of the violence to cut off the information flows about the crackdown.

Recently, a popular Myanmar blogger Nay Phone Latt was arrested on 29 January. Nay Phone Latt's blog was written in Burmese and in the style of creative writing. He used it as a forum discussing the difficulties of daily life, such as the electricity shortage and the swelling cost of living.

Burma was at the forefront of press freedom in Southeast Asia before 1962 military coup. The country enjoyed free press without censorship. As many as three dozen newspapers, including English and Chinese dailies, existed between 1948 and 1962 under civilian government. Even the prime minister’s office never closed for the journalists in those days. There were also free to set up relation with international press agencies.

The situation changed in 1962, when the military seized power. All newspapers were nationalized by the junta led by Gen. Ne Win. It established a Press Scrutiny Board (PSB) to enforce strict censorship on all forms of printed matter including advertisements and obituaries. Since then, military junta's censorship and self-censorship are commonplace in Burma and these have severely restricted political rights and civil liberties.

Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) is a major oppressive tool of the incumbent military regime. Not surprisingly, Burma stands downgraded from a free state to a prison state. All news media in Burma is strictly censored and tightly controlled by the military -- all daily newspapers, radio and television stations are under supervision of the junta. Whatever some privately-owned journals and magazines are there, they are strictly under the PSRD scanner. No printed matter can bring out without PSRD permission.

Moreover, the junta also dominates the media industries through alternate publication companies owned by generals and their cronies. Photos, cassette tapes, movies and video footage also need the censor's stamp before reaching the people. At the same time, the military concentrates to stop the flow of uncensored radio news in Burmese version available from international broadcasting stations.

The radio, television and other media outlets are monopolized for propaganda warfare by the military regime and opposition views are never allowed. The regime even does not allow the religious discourse. The media is special tool for the military regime and no space for the opposition party. The political debates are always inhibited even at the National Convention. That's why the National Convention lost its credibility and regarded as a sham.

The foreign periodicals have not been seen in news-stands since October as the junta has been blocking reports on Burma. The owners of the Internet Cafes have forced to sign an agreement to follow restrictions by the authorities and dare not allowing users to get out of the regime's filters. Moreover, the owners have to inform the details of their customers to the military intelligence. Currently, freedom of press situation in Burma is getting worse and worse. Media related people are feeling defenseless. Voices of peoples are constantly blocked.

Unless the junta recognized the essential value of human rights – such as, freedom of expression and freedom of association – its under-preparation referendum for a new constitution will be pointless at all.

Press as the fourth pillar of a state is accepted around the globe. The lifeblood of democracy is free flow of information. Burma needs regional cooperation for Press Freedom. Journalists in Burma are looking forward to have more assistance, morally and practically, from the international media groups.

Without press freedom a nation cannot enjoy democracy.

- Asian Tribune -

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