Information minister Kyaw Hsan promised more media freedom during a conference last week in Rangoon, but the Burmese authorities continue to keep the media on a short leash and still try to intimidate media they regard as too outspoken.
Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization, the Burma Media Association, condemn the warnings that have been issued by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), the government’s media oversight agency, in response to published content deemed to have been “not in accord” with its policy.
Myint Naing, the publisher of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party newspaper Toetakyay, was summoned for questioning by the PSRD on 23 March. Before that, Ohn Kyaing, the publisher of the National League for Democracy newspaper D-Wave, was summoned for printing a satirical cartoon about the PSRD that was seen as over-critical.
“We are worried by the signs of increasing tension on the part of the PSRD and its attempts to reestablish control of the media, especially the opposition media, in the run-up to legislative elections,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This contrasts with what Maj. Tint Swe, the head of the PSRD, said last October, namely that the agency should be disbanded. The authorities should carry out their declared intention of allowing more media freedom. We condemn their double language, the way they say one thing and do another.”
Toetakyay publisher Myint Naing was summoned before Maj. Tint Swe on 23 March because of an article in the 29 February issue headlined “From a Green Military Uniform Government to a Yellow-Skirt Democracy” that commented ironically about the vaunted transition from a military government to a civilian one.
According to the exile publication Mizzima News, which Reporters Without Borders contacted, Tint Swe objected to the phrase “military ogre Ne Win” in particular and to passages he regarded as “obscene” and “not in accord with the policy of the PSRD,” and he made Myint Naing sign a pledge that the newspaper would in future take more care with the language it used.
D-Wave publisher Ohn Kyaing was summoned before the PSRD on 7 February over a cartoon by Tha Lain Ma in the previous day’s issue showing a newspaper labelled “Freedom of Press” that was prevented from taking off into the “Democratic Sky” by a chain labelled “Press Scrutiny.” The opposition National League for Democracy began publishing D-Wave on 16 January.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association meanwhile note that a libel suit against Modern Weekly has been abandoned and that a hearing in another libel suit against The Voice has been postponed.
Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reported yesterday that the lawsuit against Modern Weekly and one of its reporters, Thet Su Aung, over an article criticising road repairs in the Mandalay area was withdrawn by the construction ministry engineer who brought it. Modern Weekly representative Kyaw Yin Myint told DVB he welcomed the move and saw it as a sign that the government wanted to improve relations with the media.
The hearing in the libel suit that the mining ministry brought against the weekly The Voice was due to have held on 22 March. It was postponed without any new date being set.