How Much Freedom Does Burmese Media Enjoy?
By AUNG ZAW Tuesday, March 6, 2012

(Page 2 of 3)

And we still cannot act like India’s media.”

Respected Burmese journalist Ludu Sein Win wrote a recent article—which the censorship board refused to publish inside Burma—which blasted those who attended the media conference for “helping to make the rope to hang themselves.” This article is now published in The Irrawaddy Burmese language online site here. He called for the participation of journalists and media figures in drafting the media law.

The media law does not include broadcast and online media and many in the industry remained cautious. It seems Naypyidaw will not easily provide broadcasting licenses to private media, but will only honor those who are allies of the government, crony tycoons or have ties to the military.

Family members of retired senior generals have shown a keen interest in applying for broadcasting licenses. I am sure nepotism seems to Naypyidaw as the safest way to honor broadcasting licenses rather than independent-minded broadcast journalists.

Who Controls the Press in Burma?

Many inside and outside Burma have dubbed Information Minister Kyaw Hsan as hawkish and a hardliner.

In a parliamentary debate last year, Kyaw Hsan said that media freedom would bring “more disadvantages than advantages,” before he went on to astonish MPs with a half-hour recital from the Buddhist tales of the Jataka.

“Media is like red ants,” he explained, saying that the country would face instability if restrictions on the press were relaxed.

But senior officials at the Ministry of Information told me during my visit that due credit should be given to the minister and the government for deciding to loosen its grip on the media. And it is true that, during this year and the last, the Burmese press under Kyaw Hsan has enjoyed more freedom.

Again, many editors I met remain insecure and feel uncertain. “The minister is too cautious to give us freedom… it is still a hopeless situation,” one renowned editor who is close to the minister and asked to remain anonymous told me during my visit.

Freedom may not be permanent, but I observed myself, and many in the media sector agree, that they currently enjoy greater liberty and a longer leash.

The print media censorship board now pass many more news articles, but degrees of censorship are employed and placed on certain journals. For instance, if a journal is deemed too critical of the government or in favor of covering the opposition movement and Aung San Suu Kyi, it can face extra scrutiny. I am told that officials are increasingly worried about the continuous coverage of Suu Kyi’s campaign trial, the 88 Generation Students and growing opposition movement in general.

In Burma, I also discovered it is possible to purchase certain freedom. Ironically, some media tycoons buy off censorship board officials to get more taboo political subjects printed—prompting international media watchdogs to unwittingly applaud publications inside Burma for daring to challenge the censorship board.

In reality, it is just a mixed bag—some are genuinely pushing the envelope for greater freedom (and punished at some point) but others have special connections so they can publish news and articles that are forbidden in other local journals.

Some editors confided that they feel deeply embedded and too close to the government so they can no longer write anything that is important to readers.

“We are compromised and have to practice self-censorship,” one renowned publisher who owns several journals told me in Rangoon. Other media tycoons just know that news sells and simply practice populist journalism.

One thing for sure is that restrictions on the media in Burma have been loosened, but censorship and control mechanism remain intact. I suspect this will continue to maintain its presence in a different form, so editors and journalists in Burma face many unanswered questions.

To me—aside from the cronies, tycoons and censorship board—skills and capacity are one of many problems facing the Burmese media sector.

Although there is space to publish news and articles that would not be permitted by the more repressive regime of the past, critical analysis, editorials, investigative reporting, good practices of ethics and professional standard of journalism are still missing from many publications.

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Tom Tun Wrote:
Sounds like you don't understand the the rights o people and the one who are violating. In your example, if someone is disrespecting an organization or a particular society, that individual is responsible for his action. However, out of that fear for inappropriate press and punishing the whole society for their rights of freedom of expression is wrong. Society has no rights to silencing one individual if individual has has power to silencing society is wrong.

migalaba Wrote:
Irrawaddy, you have never mentioned about UNESCO is helping legal framework on media laws. Report its development of the news.

"Myanmar: UNESCO will offer technical advice on establishing regulatory and legal framework for the media that meets international standards and best practices, as requested by the government of Myanmar; a national seminar on “the role of media / freedom of expression and information in the democratic setting” will be held in the country on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, 2012."

mingalaba Wrote:
And also they see it as a glass of half-filled water. Others see it in half-empty.
Such as this

And yes... I'd like to see that "honest reporting". Some news agency report controversial news only in Burmese but not in English because they are bias. They do not dare to report such as like this news in English...

But I agree with you on this "the problem also lies in the skills of reporters and editors."

Venus Wrote:
Don't expect too high yet.We start from zero to flow against the old bloods.Can’t get100 % freedom overnight. Something is just better than nothing.After 2 or 3 round of next election,we might reach to this point.If we are too ambitious to get 100%, even what we get 5% in hand now can be lost forever. I don't believe 100 % media freedom can promise peace and stability. Have you seen the media freedom insulted Buddha surrounded by women in TV out of control? so be in middle path 50%, I can peacefully die.

Tom Tun Wrote:
Isn't it "Freedom Of Speech" a fundamental rights of Human being? Journalism must have freedom of speech and press without any scrutiniy. If there is any kind of restriction on freedom of speech as an individual or press organization, can we even say that we have full Human rights? Sensorship board is kneel jerk action against freedom of speech and covering the crime of the powerful government. There is nothing positive for the people provided by sensorship board.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
Not much. Because Aung Zaw and his lackeys keep censoring messages that counter treasonous assertions.
That simple.
State must regulate media because media is power without accountability.
Media is far more dangerous than an army to sovereignty of a nation.
Clip illegal power of the likes of Aung Zaw, lap dog of Western imperialism.
Just look how quickly he got rid of the article about Obama praising the Burmese regime!

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