Mon 30 Nov 2009
Filed under: Opinion,Other
Presently, Burma is at an intersection of political makeover. The military regime wants to maintain the status quo while the people desire to open a new chapter of change. People are demanding freedoms of expression and association while the junta is in no mood to allow basic civic rights.
So much so, most people are rallying in support of NLD the proposals. In its ‘Shwe-gon-dine declaration’ dated 29th April 2009, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has set two conditions for its participation in the 2010 election. One amend provisions in the 2008 constitution which are not in harmony with democratic principles. Two hold an all-inclusive free and fair poll under international supervision.
The International Community has been urging the junta to release all political prisoners prior to the 2010 election in order to gain international support. “Burma must release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and let her to take part in a nationwide election, otherwise the vote will not be honourable and U.S. economic sanctions will not be lifted”, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Scot Marciel, warned after meeting her in Rangoon.
No diplomatic breakthrough was achieved during the visit to Burma by Mr. Marciel and the Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell on November 3 and 4. In addition to Suu Kyi, the two American diplomats met Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein, opposition politicians, ethnic leaders, and others. But they could not meet the Big Man, Senior Gen Than Shwe himself. Why a meeting with him could not be arranged remains unclear. After all it is Gen Than who calls the shots in Burma and a meeting with him could have been beneficial to both sides.
According to some analysts, there is no progress at all since the US Special Mission’s visit to Burma. There is more belligerence, more restrictions on media and civil society, more control on Internet users, more arrests, more political prisoners, and more military attacks in the ethnic minority areas. So, dissident politicians warned each other to be very wary and have asked the international community to put pressure on the regime until the said benchmarks are achieved.
If the junta has a sincere mindset to start democratic reform, the media must be free at the outset. Access to information is crucial to establish a healthy democracy. Moreover, media is the backbone of a democracy system. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless frontiers”.
But, in Burma, not only the political oppositions but also the journalists and the media personnel are under the strictest rules of the stratocracy. In most countries, journalists or media workers can do their jobs without fear or favour and survive. But in military ruled Burma, journalism is a hazardous work. Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai was killed in the 2007 Saffron Revolution. Several citizen journalists are still in prisons.
According to the Burma Media Association and Reporters Sans Frontieres, at least 12 journalists and dozens of media workers including poets and writers are held behind bars since the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and the May 2008 constitutional referendum. Some like film director, writer and comic Zarganar and blogger Nay Phone Latt received long-term sentences while sentences for print journalists ranged from two to seven years. Saw Wai, a poet, was arrested in January 2008 for inserting a concealed message – power crazy Than Shwe – in a Valentines Day poem. He has been awarded a two- year jail term..
The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) “strongly condemned” the arrest on 28 October 2009 of freelance journalist and blogger Pai Soe Oo (alias) Jay Paing, reportedly a member of Cyclone Nargis disaster relief volunteer group named “Lin Let Kye” (“Shining Star”). CPJ called for his immediate release, saying his arrest undermined the Burmese junta’s assertion of moving toward democracy.
“Burma’s military regime claims to be moving toward democracy, yet it continues to routinely arrest and detain journalists,” said Shawn W. Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Reducing international pressure should require demonstrable improvements in press freedom.”
A freelance journalist, speaking under condition of anonymity, said that around 20 people, including entertainers, writers and press workers, have been arrested since third week of October. There were several arrests without warrant between 21 and 28 October. Staff members of the Voice, the Foreign News, the Favourite, the Pyi Myanmar and the Kandarawaddy journals are reportedly picked up for a life in jail.
He could confirm at least eight people including 4 journalists arrested by police and military intelligence officials at their homes. They included Khant Min Htet, a poet and the layout designer for the ‘Ahlinkar Wutyi Journal’,Thant Zin Soe, an editor of the Foreign Affair News weekly journal, freelancer Nyi Nyi Tun (alias) Mee Doke and Paing Soe Oo (alias) Jay Paing, a freelance reporter and blogger. The other four, Aung Myat Kyaw Thu, Thet Ko, Myint Thein and Min Min are students of Dagon University.
The detained youths are members of “Linlet Kyei,” or “Shining Star” a group which helps survivors of last year’s Cyclone Nargis, which killed over 140,000 people. The Linlet Kye volunteer group was formed in early May 2008 and has over 40 members. Most of them are Rangoon-based reporters and young social activists. They help orphaned schoolchildren by providing them with textbooks and paying for their school expenses.
Burmese media is often targeted during periodical crackdown on dissents. Some more arrests of journalists cannot be ruled out since the regime has turned a virtual deaf ear to the appeals from the international community to release political prisoners prior to elections next year..
Burma was at the forefront of press freedom in Southeast Asia before the 1962 military coup. The country then enjoyed a free press; censorship was something unheard then. As many as three dozen newspapers, including English, Chinese and Hindi dailies, existed between 1948 and 1962. Journalists had free access even to the prime minister’s office in those days. They were free to tie –up with international press agencies.
The situation changed in 1962, when the military seized power. All newspapers were nationalized. Press Scrutiny Board (PSB) came up to enforce strict censorship on all forms of printed matter including advertisements and even obituaries. Since then, censorship and self-censorship have become commonplace in Burma undermining political rights and civil liberties.
Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) is a major oppressive tool of Than Shwe military regime. Not surprisingly, Burma stands downgraded from a free state to a prison state. All news media in Burma is strictly censored and tightly controlled by the military — all daily newspapers, radio and television stations are under supervision of the junta. Whatever privately-owned journals and magazines are there, these are few and work strictly under the PSRD scanner. No printed matter can bring out without PSRD permission.
The radio, television and other media outlets are monopolized for propaganda warfare by the regime and opposition views are never allowed. Recently some FM Radio stations have come up but people view them as a part of the military campaign to secure voters’ support for the ‘official nominees’ in the 2010 elections.
The regime knows well how to take advantage of the popularity of FM radio. They are now using the new stations to magnetize people away from the exiled media. The media is a special tool for the military regime and no space is given for the opposition.
Unless the junta guaranteed the essential value of human rights – such as, freedom of expression and freedom of association – its ongoing polling process will be meaningless.
Press is the fourth pillar of a State. It is accepted around the globe. Not in Burma. The lifeblood of democracy is free flow of information. Burma needs regional cooperation for Press Freedom. While Burma is at an intersection of political makeover, the media workers in Burma are looking forward to have more assistance, understanding and pragmatic help from the international media groups.
Without press freedom a nation cannot have social equality or democracy.