Slorc intent on swithching off the flickering lights of Myanmar
May 12 , 1995
Is journalism in Burma dead? If not, it must be in a coma. “There is a big ggap of more 30 years since the newspapers were nationalized in 1964,” said 74-years-old “Guardian” Sein Win at a training session for journalism in Rangoon recently. About 16 young and energetic Burmese participated, which surprised some foreign visitors considering lack pf press freedom in the country.
Freedom of the press ended when Gen Ne Win staged his coup in 1962. All newspapers were taken over and only government-owned newspapers like Lok-tha-pyi-thu-nei-zin- and the English-language Working People’s Daily were allowed to poblish and report “within the accepted limits of the Burmese way to socialism.” Further, all books , magazines, periodicals, song and films had to be submitted to the Slorc’s censors prior to printing or distribution. At times pages of foreign news magazines are ripped out or offending sections inked over.
Most Burmese who grew up under Ne Win’s socialist regime do not know what freedom of press and expression is. Nevertheless, they did enjoy a brief taste of press freedom in 1988 when nearly 100 different private newspapers, journals and newssletters sprounted as the government lifted controls. Even government-owned newspapers were coming out with accurate reports. But it lasted only up to Septembar of that year when the military staged another coup.
“I was surprised, but happy that journalism in my country had flourished again,” said Aung Win, who was publishing a weekly journal during that summer of democracy. “We never had a chance to try out our journalistic skills, although we also learned how to practice self-censorship,” he added.
However, as far as Burma’s military leaders were concerned, and especially intelligence chief Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, the summer of 1988 was merely an opportunity for thaose whom the junta considered dissidents and rebels.
“ I have not forgotten that during the 1988 disturbances certain journalists, who disregarded their code of conduct and dignity and who were influenced by leftist and rightist ideologies, instigated the rebellion. Some publications took advantagee of the situation and concocted reports to please the neo-colonialists. This was unforgivable,” he said revently.
Burma’s present newspapers, The Mirror (Burmese) abd the New Light of Myanmar (both Burmse and English), are completely controlled by Slorc. Their coverage of news is bland and limited almost exclusively to Slorc activities. One example was last year’s meeting between two junta leaders and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which barely rated a mention in the state organs.
The Britain-based anti-censorship group, Article 19, in a report released on March 20, called Burma “one of the most heavily censord states in the world.” It noted the contradiction between greater economic freedom allowed since Slorc took power and the suppression of free and open debate and said the disparity must end if Burma’s chronic political problems are ever to be resolved.
But if anything , Slorc appears to be tightening its grip on the dissemination of news. Soon after the April water festival in Burma. Slorc stopped the publication of at least two privately-owned and well-known magazines, Kyi-pwa-yay and Ma-hethi. Sourced in Rangoon said that both would remain shut for at least six months.
Many still cannot find a reason for the closure. But some Burmese writers in Rangoon speculated the two were closed down because they published a classified advertisement from Burmese youths and students in Tokyo. The ad went like this: “Happy New Year. The Burmese in Tokyo will celebrate the water festival at the Tokyo Dome, known as the Big Egg, from 10:00am to 4:00pm. For further information please contact the Water Festival committee in Japan.”
The closure of Kyi-Pwa-Yay surprised many writers in Burma as the Magazine had been running articles about free market aconomy and had also been supporting Slorc’s Visit Myanmar Year. The editor, Mya Khine, is close to some time, a writer noted that a new censorship system had been introduced by the Press Scrutiny Board (PSB), which regularly blackened out sensitive articles and sentences. But A PSB officer told writers recently, “The pracitice of inking out words does not speak well for a free market enonomy. Therefore, the style of censorship has to be changed, Instead of inking over the sentences, the whole article will be torn out.