Pressing Forward: Media in Exile
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, March 23, 2019


Pressing Forward: Media in Exile

By Kyaw Zwa Moe and Naw Seng NOVEMBER, 2002 - VOLUME 10 NO.9

Burma’s emerging media groups in exile are trying to shed political affiliations and overcome financial limitations. "All we want is to provide unbiased and accurate information about our country," says Chum Toik, editor of Kao Wao, an ethnic Mon news group based in Thailand. While media groups inside Burma function in a culture of draconian censorship and operate in constant fear of imprisonment for crossing the authorities, emerging media groups in exile such as Kao Wao are generally free to publish whatever they wish without persecution. The obstacles facing these groups are of a different kind. "We provide news in English only by e-mail but we still have financial problems," says Chum Toik. "Though we don’t publish our news, we still have to spend money to make phone calls, including overseas, to get news and to confirm stories at the very least." Financial problems are the number one cause of headache for most media organizations covering Burma-related issues, and many have already ceased operations altogether because of a shortage of funds. "We stopped our newspaper for eight months because of financial problems," says Maung Maung Htwe, editor of the Burmese-language weekly Amyin Thit (New Vision). "But we have started publishing the paper again, although we realize the same problem will certainly happen again in the future." Amyin Thit was founded in 2000 by members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). Most media organizations like Amyin Thit rely on private and public foreign agencies, individual donors and political organizations for support. To offset costs further, some groups have tried to sell their publications but have found that making money from their readers can be a difficult task. Thus, most publications are distributed for free in border areas with a high concentration of Burmese. Inside Burma, publications like Amyin Thit are illegal and those found in possession of dissident publications are usually punished harshly. In July, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) sentenced two members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to three years imprisonment for holding copies of Khit Pying (New Era), a Bangkok-based Burmese-language opposition journal. Cash-strapped media organizations face serious human resource constraints. Few media groups can afford to hire their own reporters or stringers and most editors and staff writers are forced to work as volunteers without a regular salary. Desperate for news copy, they depend on Burmese radio broadcasts from abroad, wire services and other news agencies. "It is difficult to get news from inside the country," says Thet Lwin Oo of the Muslim Agency for News (MAN) based in Thailand. MAN was founded by a group of Burmese Muslims this past May and provides news specifically for Burmese Muslims in Thailand. Covering mainly political and social affairs, MAN now distributes its Burmese language news by e-mail and has plans to publish a fortnightly print edition. And despite modest donations from individual donors, MAN, like other groups, is short of funds. "If we have stringers or reporters, we really need to send them to the country [Burma] to get news, and to report from there in anyway possible—secretly or openly," says Khun Hseng, editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) based in Thailand. "As long as we can’t do that, it is difficult to run accurate reports." "The biggest problem for us is with human resources," he adds. "We have just three editors for our four-language publication and three stringers on the border. Our editors have to be news writers at the same time." SHAN publishes a monthly newspaper in Shan, Burmese, Thai and English languages. But even with stringers and reporters, collecting news from inside Burma is never easy. One big hindrance is the fear of people who are living under the junta’s rule. "People don’t dare to speak out because of arrests and persecution by military intelligence," says Duidim, editor of Khawanutum, an ethnic Chin media group based on the India-Burma border. Khawanutum provides news from Chin State and the border via e-mail in Burmese language. According to Duidim, Khawanutum was founded by Chin who were not members of any political party, thus allowing them to maintain editorial independence. Khawanutum operates using the pocket money of staffers. Burmese who have contacts with news agencies, publications and radio broadcasters abroad tread a dangerous line. San San Nweh, a famous journalist and author, for example, was sentenced in 1994 to 10 years imprisonment for sending information to a foreign news agency. By contrast, most journalists outside Burma never face the severe penalties imposed by the government. Still, some journalists reportedly have been directly and indirectly intimidated by leading members of ethnic groups after running investigative stories.

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