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NEWS - Low Tolerance for Press and

Subject: NEWS - Low Tolerance for Press and Artistic Freedom

Media-Burma: Low Tolerance for Press and Artistic Freedom

            Inter Press Service

            RANGOON, (Nov. 10) IPS - The 19th century Burmese
            monarch King Mindon never had a chance to hear about
            Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

            But he still knew the value of free speech, declaring that
            press freedom would prevail in his kingdom when the
            country's first newspaper began circulating in the early

            Even when Burma became a province of British India in 1886
            and through the post-independence regime of Prime Minister
            U Nu, the freedom of the press was a much-respected right
            in this South-east Asian country. 

            But that is no longer the case. Indeed, for almost four
            decades now, the Burmese media have essentially been
            under gag order. 

            In a report released this year, the New York-based
            Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Burma and
            Indonesia are "enemies of the press" in Asia. The
            Britain-based anti-censorship group, Article 19, also
            describes Burma as among the most heavily censored states
            in the world. 

            To be sure, Burma is only one among several countries in
            South-east Asia that have low tolerance for media freedom.
            During a recent media conference held in Subic Bay in the
            Philippines, Indonesian, Malaysian and Cambodian
            journalists and media observers told of harassment and tight
            state control of the press. 

            Still, Burmese journalists lament the fact that up until the
            early 1960s, they had enjoyed the right to speak and write
            whatever they pleased with little worries of violent
            from the government. 

            These days, journalists say they "have to know their limits"
            they do not want to end up in prison. 

            Comments one writer here: "Every writer, every poet, every
            journalist and every cartoonist is always ruled by the fear
            that what he has written will not get past the censor.
            every freely created work of art is subjected to

            Even Burmese reporters working for international news
            agencies are monitored heavily. One journalist here says
            they are not allowed to report on the "the negative side of
            the country and the opposition movement". He adds, "We
            know we are being watched." 

            As a result, the dailies circulating nowadays in Burma have
            reports that are uniformly bland and limited mostly to
            chronicles of the government's activities, such as the
            generals' visits to schools and pagodas. 

            Frustrated Burmese have turned to broadcasts of foreign
            media outfits -- most of which are also jammed by the
            government -- for more news. Comments a media observer:
            "They have little faith in newspapers -- they read
            newspapers for announcements." 

            Ironically, what signalled the end of press freedom in Burma
            was a press conference -- the first and last held by Gen. Ne
            Win after he staged a coup and took over power in 1962. 

            Angered by the numerous queries hurled at him by veteran
            journalists, the general swore, jumped out of his chair and
            kicked it. Then he marched out of the room in fury. 

            During his 26-year rule, Ne Win closed down all private
            magazines and newspapers and threw numerous journalists
            and writers in jail. 

            His regime declared that freedom of expression was
            permitted only "within the accepted limits of the Burmese
            Way of socialism". 

            The Press Scrutiny Board (PSB) was set up to monitor and
            censor books, magazines and journals, as well as to control
            writers and journalists. 

            In 1988, the year Ne Win stepped down, Burma had a brief
            re-acquaintance with press freedom. As people filled the
            streets of the capital in peaceful demonstrations calling
            democracy, almost 100 newspapers and bulletins came in

            The 1988 elections yielded a narrow victory for the
            democrats, but the military refused to give up power and
            staged a coup. 

            The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which
            has ruled the Burma since then, has put even more
            restrictions on the local media. It also tells them what to

            Recently, it ordered journalists to publish articles
            opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. A
            Rangoon-based reporter told Radio Free Asia: "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 say

            For journalists here, attracting the ire of officials may
            jail terms of some five to seven years, with hard labor.
            media observers estimate that there are about 20
            including women reporters, currently in Burmese prisons. 

            Among the more prominent jailed journalists is Win Tin, who
            has been in Insein prison for the last nine years. He was
            chief editor of the Mandalay-based Hanthawaddy newspaper
            in the 1970s. In 1989, Win Tin became a leading member of
            the National League for Democracy (NLD) -- and one of Suu
            Kyi's advisers. He was arrested that year. 

            Now in his 60s, Win Tin suffers from heart disease and
            requires constant medication. His sentence was extended to
            11 years after he was convicted of smuggling out letters
            describing the dismal conditions at Insein. 

            Relatives and friends have expressed concern over his
            physical condition. Some US congressmen and former U.N.
            special human rights investigator Yozo Yokota have
            managed to visit him in the last several months, in attempts
            to see that Win Tin is still in good health. 

            Media observers say there have been cases of journalists
            dying while in prison, some because of the lack of
            medication. Last year, well-known writer U Tin Shwe died
            while in jail reportedly because of torture and