Has Burma's Glasnost Begun?
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, July 31, 2021

Has Burma's Glasnost Begun?

By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY Thursday, February 16, 2012

Press freedom, as illustrated by The Irrawaddy's resident cartoonist Harn Lay.

Under the rule of former dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe, Burma was one of the most media-unfriendly countries in the world. The press was denied access to everything from public debates to Parliamentary sessions, media websites were blocked and hacked, stories were censored in Orwellian fashion, and journalists were forced to stay as low-profile as possible, writing under pseudonyms, and often living in fear of arrest.

But things have changed under President Thein Sein's administration. Government officials have begun speaking to the media, political news can be published in local journals, foreign journalists are being granted visas into the country, and various new regulations and laws on censorship and media are currently being discussed.

On Jan. 20, Thein Sein gave his first interview as president to foreign media when he spoke to The Washington Post.

Thein Sein, who never gave interviews to foreign media under the Than Shwe regime, told The Washington Post: “With regards to freedom of the media, you can see that it is not like it was before.

“The media needs to take responsibility ... Media freedom will be based on the accountability they have,” he was reported as saying.

One immediately noticeable difference in government censorship that is apparent to everyday Burmese is the appearance of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's picture on the front pages of journals at news stands in the streets.

British writer Benedict Rogers, the author of “Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant” recently returned from Burma. He said he bought local newspapers that had pages filled with news and images of Suu Kyi.

Rogers was deported from Burma in 2011 due to the contents of his book.

“This year, I had no problem with getting a visa,” he said. “Nobody said anything to me when I was walked through [Customs and Immigration] and nobody followed me,” he said. “My visit was smooth. It was very surprising.”

Under the military junta, foreign journalists and writers frequently sneaked into Burma posing as tourists. Those caught working were invariably deported and stamped persona non grata.

But since the new government took office in March 2011, foreign journalists and exiled Burmese journalists from BBC Burmese Service, VOA Burmese Service and Radio Free Asia have been granted media visas, a move observers say was an early indication of Naypyidaw's policy of reform. News groups such as BBC, VOA and Al Jazeera are all reporting live now from Rangoon and Naypyidaw.

May Thingyan Hein, the chief editor of Shwe Myit Makha, an online news agency based in Rangoon, said, “We feel more confident. We feel we have more responsibility.”

She said that in the past almost every Rangoon-based journalist used a pseudonym when reporting or requested anonymity when speaking to foreign or exile media.

More and more publishers and journalists are now applying for licenses to open new publications. A few individuals or small groups such as Shwe Myit Makha and Yangon Press International have established their own online media outlets and update the latest news briefs through Facebook.

May Thingyan Hein said, however, that the policy of opening space for Burmese dissidents and exiled journalists who are critical of the Burmese government is in fact regarded in Naypyidaw as a major concession.

“Press freedom doesn’t totally exist, but I think it exists on some level,” she said.

Rogers, on the other hand, said that he felt the teashop atmosphere in Rangoon was much more open and less guarded than in previous times. “People are now quite open and will talk frankly [about politics] in the teashops in central Rangoon,” he said.

“Almost everybody I talked to said they believe the changes are genuine. I think this is the beginning of the process of openness,” he said.

In early February, a media workshop held in Rangoon was attended by media figures from around Southeast Asia and exiled Burmese journalists from BBC Burmese Service, VOA Burmese Service and Mizzima News Agency.

In the past, the state-run media in Burma ran prominent propaganda slogans slating those news groups for sowing discord and creating disunity among the population.

At the workshop, attendees debated an end to censorship in Burma and the enforcement of a draft media law.

Tint Swe, the director of Burma’s notorious Press Scrutiny and Registration Board, attended the forum and personally presented the newly drafted media law. He reportedly told those at the workshop that there would be no more censorship in Burma after the media law is enacted.

Aung Zaw, the editor of The Irrawaddy, recently visited Burma after 23 years in exile.

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Tom Tun Wrote:
What is the purpose of the censorship board in Burma? Is it to serve stability and security of Burmese people or is it to serve Burmese regime interests? If the board is to serve for Burmese people, they should be the brightest mind and resourceful people to make the decision of whether something should be allow to press. If the board block out a news out of fear, for instance Federalism and ethnic problem, is it ethical? Fear is taking place in one mind because of lack of knowledge. If we don't know something, should we study or simply kill the subject and dictate the journalism rights to press? Silencing individual for his or her different opinion is not ethical. Public should decide their subjects of reading, not the censorship board. Censorship board is simply for tyranny country.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Burmese do not believe in untested democratic freedoms. They'll stick a foot in once the door is ajar and push it open, and rightly so.

Not quite 'let a hundred flowers blossom' as in the China of 1957 that lasted all of six weeks, though proving to be more durable a window of opportunity thanks to the West sticking to their guns over relaxation/lifting of the sanctions.

Will the regime find patience a virtue in keeping up the elaborate charade for as long as it takes or will it soon snap when push comes to shove?

Shah Arkani Wrote:
Although I am fan of The Irrawaddy, this article contains some major flaws and geared towards favoring the government exaggerating the "press freedom" and having access to "social network". The truth is the press freedom in Burma is far from real. Yes, the gov't has let loose some press, perhaps for the time being to have the sanction lifted; however, until and unless every news-worthy item is publised uncensored (ex. ethnic issue, religious discrimination, offensive in ethnic areas, etc) it cannot be called a "press freedom".

Concerned Buddhist Wrote:
What about Ashin Gambira? After his re-arrest we read nothing about the follow-up.

Marty Myanmar Wrote:
How could you write such stuff as 'millions of users'??? without anything to back it up with, even common sense.
Even with all the Myanmar overseas it would barely break a million users.
The Irrawaddy should exercise greater care with concern to articles like this one loaded with such statements.
We would like to read the Irrawaddy because of its reasonable accuracy amid such information confusion out of Myanmar.
Please keep the 'good work' up and maintained.

kkloveburma Wrote:
How about quality of journalism inside and exile?

Just critizing the government and other is just nothing. Just supporting the governement and other is just nothing.

Make sure readers think with your critical analysis.

I haven't seen that much on this type both exile and inside. Wihtout that, there is no press freedom, and will like MRTV, MRTV-4 or BBC Burmese, always saying the same things.

Altsean-Burma Wrote:
"Although there are no official statistics concerning Facebook users, the social network is hugely popular with millions of users [...] in Burma"

In fact, there are statistics on the number of people in Burma who have internet access: 0.2% of the population, (just over 100,000 people). And that's just "internet" access, not even "facebook" access. So it's unclear how the author comes up with the estimate of "millions of users in Burma" sharing information via facebook.

Dave Wrote:
Cracking illustration - pls print a load of t-shirts. Bit of revenue generation for the Irrawaddy.

KML Wrote:
Orwellian fashion = Of, relating to, or evocative of the works of George Orwell, especially the satirical novel 1984, which depicts a futuristic totalitarian state./Frightening and over controlled by a government that interferes in nearly every aspect of personal life

George Orwell ( Animal Farm)

KML Wrote:
Glasnost= was the policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the second half of the 1980s
Perestroika = literal meaning is "restructuring", referring to the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system.

Oo Maung Gyi Wrote:
Media freedom is still needed in Burma compared to international standards. Responsibilities lie on both sides - the media and the authorities. The authorities should not disturb the media, if media side violates regulations and existing rule of law, then the media should be taken to the court and face the case and settle within the rule of law, that's called freedom of expression. Not nece3ssary to keep censor board which is kept only in undemocratic countries such as communist china and other dictatorship contries of the world.

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