Burma’s Junta Oblivious to International Pressure Imposes Media Control
By Zin Linn
The 74-year-old Burmese junta's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, was oblivious to international pressure for political change and totally ignored General Aung San, who is recognized as the architect of Burma's independence regained from Britain 60 years ago, and also the father of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Instead he, urged people to work together in realizing the regime's seven-step road map with ‘union spirit, patriotic spirit and the spirit of sacrifice.’
Military junta of Burma made a defiance sign of non-cooperation with the international community on 4th January, the 60th anniversary of independence from Britain, in the midst of worldwide pressure for political change following the blood-shed crackdown on Saffron Revolution.
United States, the European Union and the United Nations have repeatedly warned that Junta’s seven-step road map as a sham due to the exclusion of the election winning party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to the junta's roadmap, the new constitution draft is to be approved through a national referendum. Then a new election will pursue to form a new parliament and government controlled by military. Analysts have also said a new charter will provide formalizing the role of the military in new government.
Prior to the Independence Day, Burma's military junta surprisingly made a futile attempt to control sources of information that the country's general public keep going to access. Without earlier warning, the military junta has instructed to the satellite dish owners to follow a verbal order imposing a huge amount of 1 million kyat for the annual satellite television tax. The order has been taken place as an observable jab to prevent people watching international news broadcasts. The action signals that Burma’s Independence is non-existing now.
Dish owners who have to pay a 6,000 kyat ($ 5) license fee in last year were informed that the fee for dishes had been unexpectedly raised to 1 million kyat, about ten times average income of a government senior officer.
During last Saffron Revolution, people from former capital Rangoon and all other provincial cities received the fresh news footages through Al jazeera, BBC, CNN and the DVB TVs. Besides, some IT activists put those dissenting footages into compact discs and delivered to people who could not have access to satellite dishes. Such movements allow many Burmese citizens to see news footages of the recent mass anti-government demonstrations, and the brutal crackdown that ensued.
Burmese readers had also been barred from seeing reports and pictures of the crackdown in September when monks' protested. The military junta has forbidden the sales of foreign publications. The Times and Newsweek magazines and other foreign newspapers, such as Bangkok Post, The Nation and London Times, have not been seen in news stands since October. Even the owners of the Internet Cafes were forced to sign an agreement to follow restrictions imposed by the authorities. There is complete control of the news as no one dares to get through the regime's filters. Moreover, the owners of stores have to inform the details of their customers to the military intelligence.
However, they the Junta are incapable of stopping most people from listening to the Burmese language radios - BBC, VOA, Radio Free Asia and Democratic Voice of Burma. The junta’s media has labeled those outside radios as the killers and distributors of lies. People have to thank China for selling cheap transistor radios in Burma. Now, even poor people can buy China made cheaper radios. But, it is amazing that few people still listen to the junta’s radio station.
But the crazy generals are now seemingly striking back by imposing a heavy tax on satellite dishes. Actually, Burma’s numerous citizens have been utilizing satellite dishes without paying permission or charges. Tax increases on dishes may encourage people to watch the satellite channels by illegal ways or more easily bribe the corrupted local authorities.
Coincidentally, the regime does not allow most influential Buddhist abbots including Rev. Dr. Nyanissara, Rev. Dr. U Kaw-wi-dha and Rev. U Zaw-ti-ka to deliver discourses of Buddha's teachings. Their recording tapes were also banned. The media is now a special tool of the military regime and there is 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.
In Burma, the entire media network is in the grip of military-dictatorship trying to suppress the freedom of expression. People have been witnessing a murky era where freedom of expression has lost its role completely. The more control they have on media and Internet, the higher the danger for the civilized exchange of ideas... The junta is abusing the media as its tool to control and influence people's thinking.
It is sad that there is no sign of freedom even in time of 60th Independence Anniversary. The Junta controls everything now. In these days, because of the experiences of the 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 regime’s supervision.
Most media businesses and publication companies are owned by generals and their cronies. Whatever few privately-owned journals and magazines are there, they are strictly under the censor's scanner. No printed matter can be seen in the book stalls without 'permission'. Photos, cassette tapes, movies and video footage also need the censor's stamp before delivering to the people.
Today military regime is practicing tyranny over all aspects of freedom in Burma. Intellectual freedom is completely subdued by various suppressive laws and decrees. The junta has never tolerated any democratic opinion and dissent.
The opposition party NLD criticized the ruling junta on the 60th Anniversary of Independence for false pronouncements about its meetings with detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and the junta’s Labor Minister Aung Kyi (Retired Brigade General), who was appointed in October by Than Shwe to mediate with her, have so far held three meetings and the talks was merely a disguise to relieve pressure on the regime.
On this occasion of the 60th Anniversary of Independence, Burma is still in the midst of a terribly gloomy political weather. The junta must take into account of the present situation and change its attitude toward reconciliation and reform in accord with the people political aspirations of the Burmese. If the generals do not think over the ground situation seriously, monks and people may revolt again to fight for their genuine liberty, equality and justice.
Zin Linn is a freelance Burmese journalist in exile. He spent nine years in a Burmese prison. He works as an information director at the NCGUB East Office. He is vice-president of the Burma Media Association (BMA), which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF).
- Asian Tribune -