Burma's media blackout
18 May 2009

aung-san-suu-kyiThe Burmese authorities are keeping tight control on coverage of Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, reports Nem Davies

Burma’s state-controlled media has neglected to report on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her ongoing trial, in stark contrast to the attention the case has received in the international press.

The New Light of Myanmar (English and Burmese editions) and the Mirror both reported on the news of US citizen John Yettaw swimming across Inya Lake and trespassing on the lakeside residence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. However, they have failed to report on the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which followed the actions of Yettaw.

The junta has charged Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for breaching the terms of her detention, confining her to a special cell inside Insein prison since last Thursday.

The censor board allowed the Rangoon-based Yangon Times and the Voice to reproduce what was reported in state-run papers, but has banned the publication of all follow-up news.

“We submitted news of Daw Suu’s trial to the censor board but it was not allowed. They only permitted us to reproduce the news reported in their daily papers,” an official of a leading weekly journal explained.

The intrusion of American John William Yettaw occurred just as the end of Daw Aung Suu Kyi’s detention term was approaching. She has spent over 13 of the past 19 years under detention.

“It is understood by the Burmese people. They can guess accurately what will happen next. The events came true as they guessed. We cannot underestimate the people,” a veteran magazine editor who wished not to be named commented.

The Burmese population is very much interested in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial and in the junta’s plans, so the shortwave broadcasts by BBC, VOA and RFA are quite popular. Electronic shops in Rangoon are reporting brisk radio sales.

“The disenchantment and dissatisfaction among the people has been going on for so long, including economic hardship. They [the authorities] are concerned over this issue too,” veteran journalist U Win Tin said.

As a precautionary security measure to pre-empt any mass gathering, authorities have erected barricades on the roads leading to Insein prison. Moreover, they have ordered the clearing of all kiosks along these roads, in addition to beefing up security at the prison’s gate.

Since General Ne Win assumed power in 1962, the Burmese media has lost its freedom, currently experiencing the worst situation its history.

“In the BSPP (Burmese Socialist Programme Party) era, we could discuss this issue of media freedom freely at the table. Now all has been lost. This is the hardest time for media personnel in Burma and we can say this time is the worst situation for the violation of media freedom,” he added.

Most private, domestic journals are experiencing increasing difficulty in acquiring permission to print breaking news.

“We can report news only after the official news report has been released. Previously we had a little leeway to report on such news. Now we have to wait until the official news release is published, even though we received the news beforehand,” said Popular Journal editor Hein Latt.

If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is found guilty by the court she will face three to five years imprisonment, a 5,000 kyats fine ($US777) or both, according to her lawyers.

Her personal doctor, Tin Myo Win, was released last Saturday after a week-long detention. He is allowed to visit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for a medical check-up on the first Thursday of every month. Opposition forces speculate his detention was related to the case of Yettaw’s visit, though there is as yet no confirmation as to the reason of his detention.

Some observers and analysts believe that the charges against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are part of the junta’s plan to continue her detention and are framing this case against her in order to serve their goal of preventing her from participating in the scheduled 2010 general election, the fifth stage of the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy.

In the meantime, the United States extended economic sanctions against Burma on 15 May for an additional period of one year.

Nem Davies is senior desk reporter and media alert coordinator for Mizzima, New Delhi

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