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Burma 16 January 2008

Myanmar Times and other media threatened and sanctioned by military censors

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association condemn the recent sanctions taken by the military government’s censorship board against the Burmese-language edition of the Myanmar Times weekly, which was ordered to suppress its next issue for carrying a report about an increase in the price of satellite dish licences (http://www.mmtimes.com/no400/n006.htm) in its 11 January issue.

The newspaper apparently published the story, which quoted an Agence France-Presse dispatch, without requesting the censorship board’s permission.

"The latest sanctions against news media that are already subject to censorship and self-censorship appear to be linked to recent official statements on press freedom," the two organisations said. "Information minister Kyaw Hsan, for example, told a group of media publishers on 13 January that the media must make an effort to help the national economy to improve and to protect itself against the destructionists threatening the country’s interests. We suspect that this kind of comment may pave the way for new sanctions and restrictions."

A Rangoon-based journalist said the government also asked the Myanmar Times to fire four of its journalists, Nwe Nwe Aye, Win Nyunt Lwin, Myint Soe and Win Kyaw Oo. The four were reportedly told to go this week.

The censorship board recently ordered at least two magazines, the Myanmar Tribune and Action Times, not to publish any "political" news. A journalist employed by one of these publications said Maj. Tint Swe, the head of the censorship board, threatened them with reprisals if they did not concentrate on entertainment and sport. Myanmar Tribune and Action Times decided to temporarily suspend publication.

A spokesperson for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, was summoned by the censorship board on 11 January and reprimanded for issuing a newsletter on 4 January, Independence Day. Reference was made to the Printers and Publishers Registration Act, under which an unauthorised publication is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

According to the Burmese exile magazine Irrawaddy, young NLD activists printed and circulated a newsletter entitled Ah-Yoan-Thit (The Dawn) containing articles on last September’s demonstrations and arrests of party activists.

The military government has refused to give the NLD any publication permit since the start of the 1990s. Aung San Suu Kyi has herself repeatedly requested authorisation to publish a newspaper.

Around 150 weekly newspapers and 80 magazines are published in Burma. Most of them do not cover politics but all of them are subjected to prior censorship. According to some sources, rampant corruption within the censorship board means that publications are sometimes able to carry reports that would normally be censored.




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