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Burma eases severe media censorship

Burma | Press Freedom

The rule of Burma's ex-tyrant Than Shwe was not kind to media. Press freedom was not part of public discussion, journalists kept low profiles, sensitive media websites were blocked, and the internet was often interrupted.

Currently, under the new government of former general Thein Sein, long-isolated Burma appears to be beginning to open up.

Government officials including President Thein Sein (pictured), who seldom give interviews to foreign media when they served under Than Shwe regime, are now speaking more freely to media.

Thein SeinIn an interview with US-based The Washington Post, the President said, “With regards to freedom of the media, you can see that it is not like it was before. We have a daily journal published in our country and [the media] can express freely in the paper. However, we still require democratic practices.”

“The media need to take responsibility and proper actions. Media freedom will be based on the accountability they have,” said Thein Sein.

Foreign writer, Benedict Rogers, the author of Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant said, on a recent trip, he witnessed people in downtown Rangoon openly selling journals with content related to Burmese prominent dissidents, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

DVDs of The Lady—a film profiling Suu Kyi—and T-shirts with Suu Kyi and her father Gen Aung San’s photos were selling in many shops in the downtown areas, he added. 

“I bought some local newspapers and journals and on the front pages of the publications I bought was Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.

This kind of atmosphere would have been hard to imagine in the past, said Rogers, who was once deported from Burma in 2011 when police officials hunted him down in a hotel in Rangoon due to his book about military dictator Than Shwe, who ruled from 1988 to 2010.

In those years, journalists worked in fear, political websites in exile were blocked and Rangoon-based based journals were heavily restricted by the state’s censorship board.  

“This year, I had no problem. I got the visa. Nobody said anything to me when I was walking and nobody followed me. My visit was smooth. It was very surprising,” Rogers said with a laugh.

Under Than Shwe regime, journalists and writers had to sneak into Burma as tourists and were kicked out as soon as they were discovered.

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.”  

In the past, she said that she and most other Rangoon-based journalists didn’t use their real names when giving interviews to exile Burmese media. They were afraid of being harassed by the Burmese authorities.

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