Burmese government continued to ban sensitive news despite assurances of more “flexible censorship policies”

23 August 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

The Burmese Ministry of Information’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) on 16 August blocked the Myanmar Times from publishing a Burmese translation of an article on new publishing license regulations in the country, according to well-informed sources in Rangoon.

The banned article, scheduled for the Myanmar Times’ 18 August edition was about the new publishing license regulation, issued by the ministry on 1 August.

Under new publishing rules, the PSRD can block the transfer of a publishing license from one publisher to another. The new rules also tighten control over authorized publications’ editorial teams.

The new regulations, however, were only published in “Myanmar Times”, which runs bilingual news and commentary in English and Burmese languages every week.

“Apparently the military junta does not want Burmese readers to know about its new restrictive policy. It doesn’t care about the English version which tends to be read mostly by expatriates in Burma,” said the sources.

Ironically, the publishing rules are part of new press censorship regulations that PSRD director Maj. Tint Swe says offers concessions to the media in return for a more proactive approach to supporting the junta. Maj. Tint Swe earlier told the Myanmar Times that new censorship policies put in force in July will allow for a more flexible environment for media reporting. He had said that negative reports an commentary about China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will still be banned, but suggested that critical reports on Burmese government projects may be tolerated as long as criticisms are deemed “constructive”.

He added that media coverage of natural disasters and poverty, previously banned, will also be allowed so long as the reports do not affect national interest.

Recent developments in Burma however suggest that nothing has changed in the junta’s censorship regime. Worse, some members of the Burmese media community suggest that things are still getting worse.

On 5 August, “Irrawaddy Magazine”, an independent Burmese news publication operating in exile in Thailand, quoted journalists inside Rangoon as saying that the overall the situation was deteriorating, despite official assurances of “more flexible censorship policies”.

In July, none of the Burmese media reported on Burma’s decision to forgo its rotating chairmanship of Asean in 2006 in response to pressure from the international community.

On 16 August the censorship board also banned local journalists from reporting about looting in a pagoda. (A Buddha tooth relic, reportedly worth about 50 million kyat or US$50,000, was said to have been among the items stolen from the pagoda, which is located near the heavily guarded villa of the head of military junta.)

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