Speech control
22 Jul 2008

The Burmese authorities are employing new tactics in their control of information, reports Nem Davies

In the wake of the saffron revolution and continuing with its policy of ‘counter media with media’, the junta is now intensifying its disinformation campaign by using the Internet.

Blog committees have been formed in each ministry and are supervised by the minister concerned. These committees monitor the media in exile, countering news and reports with their own versions. Similarly, the staff in these ministries are urged to write articles and news reports critical of the US and EU countries. Though it is not mandatory for the staff, those who contribute are honoured and rewarded. At the same time, the junta closely watches the critics of the government and pro-Daw Aung Suu Kyi bloggers.

The young blogger Ko Nay Phone Latt was charged on three counts under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code, section 32(b)/36 of the TV and Video Act and section 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Act.

Reporters Sans Frontier (RSF) said that at least ten foreign journalists who visited the cyclone-hit areas to report on the disaster were expelled from Burma. South Korean reporter Lee Yu Kyong was one of them, following her visit to the National League for Democracy (NLD) office in Rangoon on June 22.

The junta oppresses domestic journalists more severely. Reporter Ma Eint Khai Oo from Ecovision was arrested on 10 June for covering the news of cyclone victims asking for assistance from Rangoon based NGOs. Now she has been charged under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code. She has been in judicial custody in Insein prison since her bail application was rejected.
Local journalists who visited the cyclone-hit areas were detained temporarily and warned. At least six bloggers have been arrested.

All local journalists have been ordered to report at the local Military Affairs Security (MAS) units (military intelligence). These intelligence units record the movements of journalists and monitor their news reports and photographs. As a result, journalists are withholding news stories and photographs for fear of reprisal.

The state-run media has attacked reporters as selfish individuals who tarnish the image of the country by reporting cyclone damage and publishing stories of victims begging for food. Moreover the junta views reporters engaging in cyclone relief operations as anti-government elements and arrests them.

U Aung Kyaw San, editor-in-chief of Myanmar Tribune, is still in prison for burying the floating corpses of cyclone victims in Bogale Township. The renowned comedian U Thura a.k.a. Zarganar (‘tweezers’) was arrested and is still in prison for distributing relief. The former editor of a sports journal, U Zaw Thet Htwe, was arrested along with him.

Local journalists under the supervision and surveillance of the authorities can only report reconstruction and rehabilitation projects and are not allowed to cover the delay and weaknesses in relief and rescue operations. The regime only allows a positive image of its success in its disaster management and cyclone relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation operations.

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