Media of Burma

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The print, broadcast and online media of Burma (also known as Myanmar) has undergone strict censorship and regulation since the 1962 Burmese coup d'état. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, the government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice. Reporters Without Borders ranked Burma 174th out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, ahead of just Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.[1] In 2013, Burma moved up to 151st place, close to its ASEAN neighbors such as Singapore, as a result of political changes in the country.[2]

There have been moves to lift censorship in the country. Tint Swe, head of the country's censorship body, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRB), told Radio Free Asia that censorship "should be abolished in the near future" as it is "non-existent in most other countries" and "not in harmony with democratic practices."[3][4] Burma announced on 20 August 2012, that it will stop censoring media before publication. Newspapers and other outlets would no longer have to be approved by state censors, but journalists in the country could still face consequences for what they write and say.[5]

Overview[edit]

History[edit]

19th century–1962[edit]

Before British colonisation, local media was very active.[6] In 1836, the country's first newspaper, The Maulmain Chronicle, was published[7] followed by The Rangoon Chronicle in 1853,[8] later renamed to The Rangoon Times. King Mindon was an advocate of press freedom and encouraged the creation of Burma's first Burmese-language newspaper, Yadanapon Naypyidaw Thadinsa (ရတနာပုံနေပြည်တော်သတင်းစာ) to report on him and the Queen, even if it portrayed them in a negative light.[6][9]

After King Mindon, the media was useful for the resistance of colonialism.[7] Mindon Min also established the country's first indigenous press law, the Seventeen Articles, which safeguarded freedom of the press.[10] Several Chinese, Burmese and English-language newspapers were permitted to report news from around the country and internationally, interviewing politicians and interacting with foreign journalists, contrary to most of Burma's south-east Asian neighbours.[7]

Throughout the colonial era, there was a steady increase in the number publications in circulation. In 1911, there were 44 periodicals and newspapers in circulation, and 103 in 1921.[11] By the end of the 1930s, there were over 200 newspapers and periodicals in circulation, double the amount in 1921.[11] From the independence of Burma from the United Kingdom in 1948 until 1962, the country experienced a temporary period of democracy and free media. The country had one of the freest presses in Asia, with guarantees of freedom of the press in the 1947 Constitution.[12] Journalist U Thaung founded Kyemon (The Mirror Daily) in 1957, and its 90,000 circulation was Burma's largest.[13]

Military rule (1962–present)[edit]

After the March 1962 coup d'état, journalists quickly responded by forming the Burma Press Council to protect press freedom.[14] Within a month however, several journalists were arrested and publications shut down. By 1988, the number of newspapers had decreased from 30 to 8.[14] The media gradually became the monopoly of the military junta under Ne Win.

The press environment remains tightly controlled in the country. Journalists are often harassed, arrested or jailed for reporting unfavourable news that reflects badly on the country or the regime.[15] The media is also instructed to vilify opposition members.[6] Burmese media acts as the mouthpiece for the regime, where during the anti-government protests in 2007, it labelled the protesters as "devils"[16] and blamed foreign media for starting the protests.[17] Several media outlets were closed down after refusing to publish propaganda.[18] However, many outlets stopped publication as a mark of solidarity with the protesters.[17]

Subjects out of bounds for journalists include discussions of democracy, the legitimacy of the regime, political corruption, HIV/AIDS, the aftermath of natural disasters and the national football team losing,[13][19] though some attempt to hide criticism amongst words or images.[13] Because the media is restricted from reporting negative events in this way, it can often be unreliable.[6] Words by Aung San Suu Kyi are rarely covered in the media.[20] Similarly, references to the United Nations are rare, as the junta views the organisation of trying to overthrow the regime.[7]

The Burmese state-owned media also speaks ill of the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.[7] The Burmese government is wary of international media, and as a consequence, many news organisations are banned from reporting in the country.[7] One senior general accused foreign media of "spreading lies" to undermine national unity.[21] Some private media is allowed, though the government owns around 75% stake in it.[22] In 2005, several domestic journalists were released from detention.[23]

There are a total of 20 news agencies based in Myanmar, including Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, Reuters and Xinhua.[24] Exile media outlets such as the Democratic Voice of Burma based in Oslo, Norway, seek to promote civil society efforts and freedom of expression within Burma from abroad, while attempting to offer an uncensored perspective on Burmese affairs to the rest of the world.[25]

Media laws[edit]

Several media laws are in place across print, broadcast and the Internet media:[7][26]

  • The Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act (1933), enacted by the British government in colonial times, makes it an offence to have in possession any wireless telegraphy apparatus without permission. The act was amended in 1995/96 by the junta to include fax machines and computers.
  • Printers and Publishers Registration Law (1962) requires all publishers to submit copies of books and magazines to press scrutiny boards prior to publication for alterations.
  • Martial Law Order 3/89 (1989) makes it an offence to publish any document without prior registration from the Home and Religious Affairs Ministry.
  • The Television and Video Act (1995) requires the public and organisations such as the United Nations who possess televisions and video equipment to obtain a license from the Ministry of Communication.
  • The Motion Picture Law (1996) states that licenses to make films must be obtained from the Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise, which are later censored if necessary.
  • The Computer Science Development Law (1996) requires the media to have prior permission from the Ministry of Communication before using, importing or possessing computer equipment.
  • Internet Law (2000) imposes regulations on postings on the Internet that may be deemed to be detrimental to the country, its policies or security affairs.
  • Wide Area Network Establishment and Service Providing order No. 3/2002.
  • Electronic Transactions Law (2004) promotes and regulates the Internet and other electronic transactions in a wide variety of ways, including defining penalties of up to 15 years in prison for using electronic transactions (a) to commit "any act detrimental to the security of the State or prevalence of law and order or community peace and tranquility or national solidarity or national economy or national culture", and (b) for "receiving or sending and distributing any information relating to secrets of the security of the State or prevalence of law and order or community peace and tranquility or national solidarity or national economy or national culture".[27]

Newspapers and journals[edit]

Burma has three free of charge, state-owned newspapers that are distributed on a daily basis.[28] From 1965 to 2012, Burma did not have freedom of press and all newspapers were government owned.[29] Reforms were passed in August 2012, lifting the censorship laws. Previously, all newspaper articles, regardless of content, were required to pass through the censor board at the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, set up by the Ministry of Information in 2005.[30]

Despite the tight press laws, a wide variety of publications were available.[17] Magazines were less affected by the strict press laws compared to newspapers, as many avoided discussion of the political situation.[30] In all, there were 187 weekly journals registered to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division under the Ministry of Information of July 2009.[31]

After the law was repealed in August 2012, sixteen dailies were granted licenses to publish.[28] The 1962 Printing and Registration Act remains in effect, mandating a seven-year prison term for publishing without a license.[29] On 1 April 2013, the first date newspapers could be published freely, four privately owned dailies – The Voice Daily, Golden Fresh Land, The Standard Time Daily, and The Union Daily – hit news stands.[28][29]

The Voice Daily is run by the publishers of the The Voice Weekly, which has been published since 2004.[29] Golden Fresh Land is run by Khin Maung Lay who worked for the Mogyo Daily prior to 1964 and has served multiple prison terms for speaking out against the government.[29] The Union Daily' is backed by the Union Solidarity and Development political party, but promises not to be a "mouthpiece" for the party.[29]

The other twelve licensees have thus far failed to make it to publication due to a combination of outdated equipment, insufficient reporters, and trouble securing financing.[28] "To be frank, the government granted licenses much earlier than we expected and we were caught by surprise", said the editor of one private paper.[28] Several papers that have not yet seen the light of day are backed by existing media groups.[29]

There are a large variety of magazines in Burma, ranging from monthly to biannuals, although their market is smaller compared to the "journals". Topics include Burmese traditional medicine, various magazines published by non-Burmese ethnic groups (like the Shan and Rakhine), Buddhist and astronomy related magazines. There are also about 15 newspapers published daily, devoted entirely to football.[31]

Television and radio[edit]

Television[edit]

Main article: Television in Burma

All broadcast media is owned by the government except for MM which is the only private TV in Burma.[citation needed] The Video Act of 1985 outlined what media could tape.[32] There are seven TV stations in Myanmar, of which, MTV1 and MTV2 are the main channels. And another channel by government is MRTV. MRTV-3 is an English-language channel aimed at an international audience. During the 2007 protests, the stations were used to broadcast messages critical of foreign media.[17](YouTube clip) Due to lack of equipment, newsreaders often have to read directly off their notes instead of an autocue.[33]

Satellite television is illegal, though many citizens watch it.[34] Television broadcasts regularly feature members of the military visiting monasteries and handing out gifts of money and religious material.[35] In February 2010, CNN was removed from Burmese TV. It has been speculated this was because the authorities didn't want their citizens to see the predominantly US aid for Haitian earthquake victims.[36]

Radio[edit]

Radio broadcasting began in 1936, with the Burma Broadcasting Service beginning operation ten years later.[7] Today there are two FM stations one AM station and three shortwave stations. The main radio stations are Radio Myanmar (operated by MRTV) and City FM.[7] Radio Myanmar usually begins daily with readings from the governments' "Seven Point Road to Democracy", "Twelve Political, Economic and Social Objectives" and "Three Main National Causes".[37]

Little or no foreign music is permitted, instead a variety of traditional Burmese classics are played, according to the Union Solidarity and Development Association.[37] However, local radio stations usually play internationally known songs, re-recorded in Burmese.[37]

Unlike Radio Myanmar, City FM is primarily an entertainment station. Radio sets are usually tuned to government stations, however, uncensored information from stations such as BBC, VOA, Radio Free Asia and Democratic Voice of Burma (based in Oslo, Norway) are available from sets smuggled into the country and are popular, though some people caught listening to broadcasts have been arrested.[30] Before Internet access became available, foreign radio stations were a major source of information, which often helped to break the media blackout in the country.[38]

Given the population of Burma, impact from radio and television has not been significant – only 10%, due to poor living conditions.[6]

Internet media[edit]

Main article: Internet in Burma

Beginning in September 2011, the historically pervasive levels of Internet censorship were significantly reduced. International news sites, including Voice of America, BBC, and Radio Free Asia, long blocked by Burmese censors, had become accessible overnight. A number of previously censored independent Burma-focused news sites which had been highly critical of Burma's ruling regime, such as the Democratic Voice of Burma and Irrawaddy, were suddenly accessible. Following the reduction in online censorship, the head of Burma's press censorship department described such censorship as "not in harmony with democratic practices" and a practice that "should be abolished in the near future."[39]

Internet access varies due to electricity shortages.[19] The Internet media has yet to make a significant impact in Burma, where according to official statistics, as of July 2010, there were only 400,000 Internet users (0.8% of the population).[40]

Prior to September 2011 the Internet in Burma was more strictly controlled, with access blocked to websites critical of the junta, Burmese exile groups, and foreign media.[30] Government approval was usually needed to own a computer and other electronic devices capable of accessing outside information.[13] However, during the anti-government protests in 2007, some footage was posted on video sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr which gave international media an inside look at the protests.[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Press Freedom Index 2010, Reporters Without Borders, 20 October 2010
  2. ^ "PRESS FREEDOM INDEX 2013". Reporters without Borders. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Kyodo (9 October 2011). "Myanmar censorship chief calls for lifting of press scrutiny". Mainichi Shimbun. 
  4. ^ Harvey, Rachel (8 October 2011). "Burma censor chief calls for more media freedom". BBC News. 
  5. ^ "Burma Abolishes Censorship". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 20 August 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Thomson Gale (2006)
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Banerjee, I. & Logan, S. Asian Communication Handbook 2008. AMIC, 2008. ISBN 978-981-4136-10-5.
  8. ^ Litner, Bertiil (2003). "Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, Status of Media in". Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications: 139–152. doi:10.1016/B0-12-387670-2/00017-0. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  9. ^ Bo (2006).
  10. ^ Aung Zaw (16 September 2011). "A Healthy Media is Key to Our Country's Development". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Ikeya, Chie (2008). "The Modern Burmese Woman and the Politics of Fashion in Colonial Burma". The Journal of Asian Studies (Cambridge University Press) 67 (04): 1277–1308. doi:10.1017/S0021911808001782. 
  12. ^ Aung Zaw. "In Burma, a Repressive Regime Controls the Press". Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Harvard. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c d Myanmar Media Press reference.
  14. ^ a b Smith, M. J. (1991). Burma : insurgency and the politics of ethnicity. London ; Atlantic Highlands, N.J., USA : Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-85649-660-5.
  15. ^ "Myanmar journalists face intimidation, pressure from junta", Jakarta Post, 19 December 2008.
  16. ^ Monks tear gassed in Burma protest, Bangkok Post, 19 September 2007.
  17. ^ a b c d e Press Freedom Index 2008, Reporters Without Borders, 22 October 2008
  18. ^ Burma Cracks Down on Journalists, Internet, Oneworld, 28 September 2007.
  19. ^ a b Country Profile: Burma, BBC
  20. ^ Heenan, P. & Lamontagne, M. The Southeast Asia Handbook: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Taylor & Francis, 2001. ISBN 978-1-884964-97-8.
  21. ^ "Foreign media spread lies", Straits Times, 5 April 2009
  22. ^ In Exile or At Home, Working in "Burma's Media Isn't Easy", Mindanao Examiner, 21 February 2009.
  23. ^ Annual Report – Burma, Reporters Without Borders.
  24. ^ Myanmar to introduces journalism degree course for first time, People's Daily Online, 5 September 2007.
  25. ^ Khin Maung Win (2009). "Emerging freedom of expression". Development and Cooperation (Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurter-Societät) 36 (5): 192–194. 
  26. ^ "Myanmar Law (1988–2004)", Burma Lawyer' Council
  27. ^ Chapter XII, Section 33 of the Electronic Transactions Law (The State Peace and Development Council Law No. 5/2004), 30 April 2004
  28. ^ a b c d e Aung Hla Tun (1 April 2013). "Private dailies re-emerge in Myanmar, face difficulties". Reuters. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  29. ^ a b c d e f g "Privately run newspapers back in Myanma". Financial Times. Associated Press. 1 April 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  30. ^ a b c d Freedom House Press Freedom Report 2007
  31. ^ a b Non-publishing journals to be closed. Myanmar Times 24 (477). 29 June – 5 July 2009
  32. ^ Quick, A. C. World Press Encyclopedia: A Survey of Press Systems Worldwide. Gale, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7876-5583-9.
  33. ^ Lewis, G. Virtual Thailand: The Media and Cultural Politics in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Taylor & Francis, 2006. ISBN 978-0-415-36499-7.
  34. ^ Cobban, H. The Moral Architecture of World Peace: Nobel Laureates Discuss Our Global Future. University of Virginia Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8139-1987-4.
  35. ^ Burma in Perspective: An Orientation Guide, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. Technology Integration Division (October 2008)
  36. ^ Moe, Wai (6 February 2010). "Ban on CNN May Be Related to Haiti Coverage". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  37. ^ a b c Radio Myanmar at Sublime Frequencies
  38. ^ Wilson, T. Myanmar's Long Road to National Reconciliation. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006. ISBN 978-981-230-363-9.
  39. ^ "Update on information controls in Burma", Irene Poetranto, OpenNet Initiative, 23 October 2012
  40. ^ Wai-Yan Phyo Oo and Saw Pyayzon (30 July 2010). "State of Internet Usage in Myanmar". Bi-Weekly Eleven (in Burmese) (Yangon) 3 (18): 1–2. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.