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Suppression of press freedom in Bur
- Subject: Suppression of press freedom in Bur
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 08 Nov 1998 01:25:00
Subject: Suppression of press freedom in Burma gets worse
Editorial & Opinion
Suppression of press
freedom in Burma gets
From 30 newspapers, Burma, under the
military junta, has closed down all and jailed
most of the journalists branding them as
'enemies of the state'. The tragic
experience in Burma and elsewhere in the
region calls for solidarity among journalists,
writes Aung Zaw.
KING Mindon who ruled Burma in 1880s
had no chance of seeing Article 19 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But
as his kingdom began circulating Burma's
first newspaper, Yadanapon, the King
declared firmly that press freedom must
prevail in his dynasty. Thus, newspapers
published in his kingdom practised press
Even under the British and then during the
era of the late prime minister U Nu, Burma
enjoyed flourishing free press.
More than 30 newspapers including English
and Chinese language titles were in
circulation. But when Gen Ne Win came to
power in 1962 all private magazines and
newspapers were eventually shut down and
editors, journalists and writers were thrown
into jails as they were considered to be
enemies of the state.
Gen Ne Win himself held only one press
conference shortly after he staged a coup.
At the press room, as journalists
questioned the general about his mission,
the general was furious. The veteran
journalists did not give up but sat and
pressed for answers. Finally, the angry
general while using obscene language
jumped out of his chair and kicked it and
left the press room in utter stillness. That
was the first and last of Ne Win's press
This meeting also signaled the end of free
press and beginning of the repression of
the press freedom in Burma.
As he ruled the country for 26 years Ne
Win's socialist regime decreed freedom of
expression was only permitted ''within the
accepted limits of the Burmese way to
The Press Scrutiny Board (PSB) was set
up to monitor and censor books,
magazines and journals as well as to
control writers and journalists. Newspapers
were nationalised and well-respected
editors and columnists were forced to close
down their papers.
Though Burma continued to publish more
than one daily newspaper the coverage of
news was bland and limited almost
exclusively to the government's activities:
for instance, generals' visit to schools and
pagodas giving necessary instructions.
Burma's press freedom made a comeback
in 1988 but did not last long.
During the summer of 1988, when Burma's
streets were filled with peaceful
demonstrators, almost 100 private
newspapers, journals and bulletins were in
circulation. For a brief period, Burmese
people were re-acquainted with freedom of
the press. But this would last only until the
military staged a bloody coup in
Now, with even more restrictions,
newspapers, journals and magazines are
tightly controlled by the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC) which has
ruled the country with iron fist for 10 years.
Burma's state-controlled newspapers do
not cover the current events in the region.
Instead, news are heavily censored.
Suharto's downfall and street protests in
Malaysia are rarely mentioned in the state
The Britain-based anti-censorship group,
Article 19, in a report released in 1995
said, Burma is one of the most heavily
censored states in the world.
Burmese reporters working for foreign
news agencies are heavily monitored.
''Negative side of the country or opposition
movement is not allowed to be reported in
foreign press. We are permitted report very
few events. We know we are being
watched,'' said a veteran journalist in
The New York-based Committee to Protect
journalists (CPJ) has released a report this
year saying that in Asia, Burma and
Indonesia are the ''Enemies of the press.''
''Owning fax machine or photocopier is
illegal in Burma. As there is no independent
press and popular foreign broadcasts are
jammed, Burmese are kept in the dark
even about the nature of their own
government,'' the CPJ said.
Having no alternative news source
Burmese heavily rely on foreign
''They have little faith in newspapers. They
read newspapers for announcements,'' said
an analyst in Rangoon.
Recently, local reporters, writers and
publishers from state-owned and joint
venture publications were summoned by
officials to publish an article attacking
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
A reporter based in Rangoon told Radio
Free Asia (RFA) recently that authorities
ordered publishers of weekly journals to
include articles attacking Suu Kyi. ''We
have to go and get a copy of an article
every week. They [officials] give us an
article. We have to publish it. We cannot
Weekly journals now carry articles attacking
Suu Kyi. Each journal has to include at least
one such article.
Journalists in Burma work in an
atmosphere of uncertainty and
apprehension as the country is ruled by one
of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Recently, veteran journalists belonging to
the Foreign Correspondents Club of
Myanmar were invited for a dinner by senior
intelligence officers. When called, some
journalists jokingly asked, ''Do you want us
to bring blankets and mosquito nets?''
meaning whether they (journ-alists) are
''invited'' for interrogation in prison.
FCCM members are elderly journalists
whose activities are heavily monitored. ''We
have an informer in our group,'' said one
reporter in Rangoon.
Definitely, there is a reason to be afraid of.
Some reporters were simply arrested
because they had distributed publications
that ''make people lose respect for the
government.'' The jail term is between five
and seven years with hard labour.
''We should know our limits. If we step out of
the line we are looking at Insein,'' a writer in
Rangoon said. Insein is an infamous prison
where political prisoners including
journalists are being detained.
One Burmese writer said, ''Every writer,
every poet, every journalist and every
cartoonist is always ruled by fear that what
he has written will not get past the censor.
Almost every freely created work of art is
subjected to censorship.''
Even though there is no official figure on
how many journalists are currently being
detained in Burma's gulag, analysts in
Rangoon guess that approximately 20
journalists including women reporters are
languishing in Insein prison.
One of them is Burma's most prominent
journalist Win Tin, who has been detained
for 9 years.
Win Tin is well-respected as he has written
many articles on painting, world literature,
politics and journalism. In the 1970s, he
was chief editor of the Mandalay-based
Hanthawaddy newspaper, which was
eventually shut down by the government.
1989, Win Tin became a leading member
of the Nation League for Democracy [NLD]
and chief adviser of Suu Kyi.
Now in his 60s Win Tin has been suffering
from heart disease and requires constant
medication. He was visited by UN former
special human rights investigator Yozo
Yokota and US congressmen. His sentence
was extended as he was convicted of
smuggling letters describing conditions at
Friends, relatives and admirers express
their grave concern over Win Tin's health as
journalists have died in Burma's prisons
because of lack of medication.
Last year, Burma's well-known journalist
and writer U Tin Shwe died in prison as a
result of torture and maltreatment.
With regard to press freedom and safety of
media persons, Burma might be the worst
case but it is not alone.
At a recent seminar, in Subic Bay in the
Philippines, on investigative journalism in
Asia journalists around the region
expressed their concern about harassment
and some governments' tight control over
newspapers and journalists. -
Journalism trainer Moeun Chhean Nariddh
from Cambodia said it is very difficult for
journalists to work in Cambodia because of
harassment and threats.
Reporters from Indonesia and Malaysia
shared the same feelings. But Indonesian
journalists feel that they now enjoy more
freedom and access to information than
Howie Severino of the Philippine Centre for
Investigative Journalism, Manila, faces a
slightly different enigma. The Philippine
journalist said: ''We are being harassed by
He summed up: ''If we are going to expose
their drug business and illegal operations
we are certain to face harassment, death
threats. In some cases our fellow journalists
were gunned down because of what they
Indeed, as journalists in the region are
gathering in Bangkok to promote and
monitor freedom of the press in Southeast
Asia, it is high time for journalists in the
region to build up their solidarity and
strengthen their networking.
Aung Zaw is a correspondent of Radio
Free Asia and regularly writes for The