A Proposal to Khin Nyunt
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Saturday, March 23, 2019


A Proposal to Khin Nyunt

By The Irrawaddy MARCH, 2001 - VOLUME 9 NO.3

It was completely pathetic to hear Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt’s recent speech in which he claimed that "press freedom" is being granted to an "appropriate degree" in Burma, even though his government is a military regime. His statement revealed once again that the feared intelligence chief is completely deluded, either about the existing press situation in the country, or about the gullibility of Burma’s reading public. The truth is that press freedom has been non-existent in Burma for decades. Real journalists in Burma seldom receive international recognition for the excellence of their work, but rather for the number of years they are prepared to spend in prison for defending the principles of their profession. The latest honor to be bestowed upon a Burmese journalist is the prestigious Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, given to 70-year-old veteran journalist U Win Tin by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Sadly, the award is less a reflection on his long and distinguished career than an acknowledgement of the persecution he has borne for more than a decade since his arrest and imprisonment in 1989. To speak of press freedom in a country where men and women of his stature are severely mistreated for speaking their minds is an affront to the intelligence of people everywhere. By the latest estimate, at least 20 reporters remain behind bars in Burma, earning the country the dubious distinction of being the region’s "press enemy number one." Contrary to official claims, these journalists are not terrorists hell-bent on destabilizing their country; they are dedicated individuals intent on keeping their fellow citizens informed. Khin Nyunt and his cohorts would have the world believe that Burma is changing. And yet, the country remains subject to a virtual news blackout, with the state-run media serving only to obscure issues. According to a recent joint research study conducted by the Philippines Centre for Investigative Journalists and the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance, "Burma stands out as a country where virtually no reliable information is available to anyone." If Khin Nyunt is sincere about upgrading the quality of Burmese journalism, the first step he can take is the immediate removal of all restrictions on the press. He must also guarantee that the right of all practicing journalists to investigate and report on issues of importance to Burmese will be respected. Only then will Burma return to conditions that prevailed during an earlier era of press respectability, when the country was distinguished in the region for the vitality and integrity of its journalism. Unfortunately, every sign to date suggests that the "improvements" the general has in mind are purely superficial. The introduction of a Burmese-language version of The Myanmar Times, a weekly newspaper that has been around for about a year now, promises little in the way of substance. While the state-run press in Burma states matter-of-factly that The Irrawaddy is a CIA-backed publication, it is no secret that The Myanmar Times is closely connected with Burma’s military intelligence establishment. The charges against The Irrawaddy are patently absurd, but they may make perfectly good sense in a country where the media is gripped by the conspiratorial mindset of a group of paranoid generals who have no qualms whatsoever about substituting blatant lies for simple facts. Sadly, there is no shortage of models around the region for the sort of press Khin Nyunt would like to create in Burma. Singapore and Malaysia immediately come to mind as places where the sophistication of the local media belies its role as a provider of state propaganda. Stifling dissenting voices has become a fine art in these countries, which have also been notable for their willingness to turn a blind eye to the Burmese junta’s worst abuses for the sake of trade deals. With friends like these in the region, the Burmese people certainly don’t need enemies. The Burmese authorities must do more than end their media attacks on the opposition; they must allow the opposition equal access to the press, and let the Burmese people decide for themselves who they can believe. Create a Basis for Choice Students have long borne the brunt of military ire in Burma, being second only to armed insurgents in terms of the perceived threat they present to the supremacy of the powers that be. Many have given their lives and freedom to have some say in choices about their country’s future. Now, in a complete departure from past educational policies, students are being given a measure of choice in their academic lives, albeit in the context of a restrictive social and political environment that continues to render most choices meaningless.

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