The Web: A New Window on Burma?
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The Web: A New Window on Burma?

By Ko Thet DECEMBER, 2001 - VOLUME 9 NO.9

More and more publishers in Burma are putting their magazines online for the world to see; but if the junta has its way, they will remain little more than window dressing. Since late last year, some Burmese monthly magazines and weekly journals have begun launching website versions. This is creating a real stir in the Burmese publishing industry, and attracting a great deal of attention from Burmese living abroad. But despite the immense hopes attached to this recent development, so far most of these new websites have failed to live up to expectations. These magazines and journals mainly target overseas Burmese, as only about 5,000 people within the country have access to the national Intranet, the Burmese junta’s substitute for the Internet. A spokesman from one famous journal said, "I’ve never seen the on-line version of our journal because we don’t have [Intranet] access." One Burmese man who lives in Europe said, "I’m glad that I can keep in touch with our literature while I’m away from the country. But the problem is these websites are not updated regularly." Many other web surfers have also complained about delays in updating these websites. "I don’t know what restricts them, but those websites frustrate me. I love to read them, but they should be more active," remarked one Burmese scholarship student in England. Another reader from Europe complained that some sites can’t be read because of problems with fonts; though the site offered a font program to download, it didn’t work. Another problem was that some magazines didn’t display a complete version. But the main problem, he said, was that there were no updates of either journals or magazines. Readers of printed versions can obtain each new issue of any magazine on the first week of the month. Weekly journals are also a welcome sight, making a colorful display on the days they hit the shelves at bookshops around the country. The editor of a well-known magazine said, "All websites are controlled by Bagan Cyber Tech. We generally finish our part at least a week before the printed version." Bagan Cyber Tech is an IT company owned by a famous local businessman with strong ties to the military government. Any publishing company or other business hoping to launch a website must go through Bagan. As such it acts as a kind of censorship board for online versions of magazines and journals, because the Military Intelligence (MI) is watching closely. "MI officers are standing behind Bagan and keeping a close eye on everything we upload," said a journalist working for a popular magazine in Rangoon. According to this same journalist, Bagan is also rather weak in the technical sector, although this is not the main reason for delays in updating webpages. Under the military regime in Burma, there is no freedom of expression. The Press Security Board, which consists of officers from the army and MI, censors every sentence of periodical journals and magazines both before and after printing. "The reason why the government allows these websites to exist is that they see them as ‘window dressing’ and thus as good publicity for them," said the editor of a well-known magazine. "They always proclaim that this is the IT era, yet they never encourage magazines to supply up-to-date information online. One reason for this is that the government don’t want everyone in the world to know what is happening inside the country." Journals and magazines are essential sources of information. They give us general knowledge and pleasure. They can also act as a mirror, because when we read a magazine or journal, we can think about the condition of the country and how much it is developing. In Burma, there are over a hundred magazines and more than eighty journals, of which about thirty magazines and ten journals are very popular among the people. They all have a different character and style. Some focus on economics, while others are concerned with philosophy. Some specialize in sport, particularly Lily (for soccer fans) and others feature international news. Astronomy magazines have become extraordinarily popular among many people during the last six years. Despite all the restrictions, the mere existence of these Burmese journals and magazines should be considered an achievement, as they are struggling hard under pressure from the military government. Burmese journalists should be thanked for their efforts to tell the truth. Pick of the Web The following are some of the leading Burmese-language magazines now available on the Internet: Alinkar Journal [] is a monthly music journal. The New Myanmar Journal [] is a weekly journal that covers international news and provides information on subjects of general interest. High quality, but updated irregularly.

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