Sign of the Times
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Sign of the Times


By Clive Parker OCTOBER, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.10


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Latest Myanmar Times setback highlights increased junta interference

 

One year ago the Myanmar Times might have been forgiven for feeling optimistic. The paper was about to relocate to bigger premises in downtown Rangoon to accommodate a swelling team of reporters, while a printing press was making its way from New Zealand that would allow Editor-in-Chief Ross Dunkley and his team to publish in-house for the first time.

 

That was, however, before Monday, October 18, 2004—the day former prime minister and head of Military Intelligence Gen Khin Nyunt was arrested for corruption.

 

Dunkley’s comment to Asiaweek shortly after he launched his English-language weekly in 2001 that “in some ways we are a litmus test to an opening up process” has this year proven to be prophetic.

 

The sentencing of Deputy CEO Sonny Swe and his father Brig-Gen Thein Swe—formerly of MI and the Myanmar Times’ chief censor until Khin Nyunt’s ouster—to 14 and 152 years in prison respectively for corruption and bypassing the official censorship process—was merely the first setback.

 

Whereas the newspaper could occasionally print articles and even pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2002 when the political situation was less tense, in the past 12 months the Myanmar Times has been “asked” to run stories provided by the Ministry of Information almost every week.

 

However, it is a request made last month by the ministry that Sonny Swe and his wife, Yamin Htin Aung, give up their 51 percent stake in the newspaper that poses the greatest threat to the publication and best highlights Burma’s overall press situation, analysts say.

 

With the junta “requesting” that Ross Dunkley finally purge his paper of all links to MI, it looks likely the Myanmar Times will have to take on someone with little interest in furthering editorial standards. The only two names known to have been put forward at this stage are those of leading businessman Tay Za and publisher Tin Tun Oo—both considered extremely close to the highest echelons of the junta.

 

Although Tay Za’s brother Thiha told The Irrawaddy “he has nothing to do with the Myanmar Times,” Burma’s best-known tycoon has reportedly been seen at its head office on Bo Aung Kyaw Street recently, while managers at the newspaper have refused to deny his involvement.

 

More likely though, sources say, is Tin Tun Oo, owner of Thuta Swezone (Knowledge) Publishing House, which produces seven journals, including its eponymous flagship title.

 

Tin Tun Oo—insultingly dubbed “the bald-headed man” by other Burmese journalists—has a confirmed interest in the Myanmar Times, which would undoubtedly prove to be bad news for Ross Dunkley and his team, Burmese journalists say.

 

Rangoon-based editors say Tin Tun Oo is well-known for his links to MOI and the Ministry of Culture since before 1988.



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