Media of Burma

Media of Burma

The media of Burma refers to print, broadcast and online media in Burma (Myanmar). The media has undergone strict censorship and regulation since the 1962 Burmese coup d'état. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, the government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice. Reporters Without Borders ranked Burma 174th out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, ahead of just Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.[1]

There have been moves to lift censorship in the country. Tint Swe, head of the country's "Press Scrutiny and Registration Division", told Radio Free Asia that censorship "should be abolished in the near future" as it is "non-existent in most other countries" and "not in harmony with democratic practices."[2][3]




19th century–1962

Before British colonisation, local media was very active.[4] In 1836, the country's first newspaper, The Maulmain Chronicle, was published.[5] King Mindon was an advocate of press freedom and encouraged the creation of the Burma's first Burmese language newspaper, Yadanapon Naypyidaw Thadinsa (ရတနာပုံနေပြည်တော်သတင်းစာ) to report on him and the Queen, even if it portrayed them in a negative way.[4][6] After King Mindon, the media was useful for the resistance of colonialism.[5] Several Chinese, Burmese and English language newspapers were permitted to report news from around the country and internationally, interviewing politicians and interacting with foreign journalists, contrary to most of Burma's Southeast Asian neighbours.[5] Throughout the colonial era, there was a steady increase in the number publications in circulation. In 1911, there were 44 periodicals and newspapers in circulation, and 103 in 1921.[7] By the end of the 1930s, there were over 200 newspapers and periodicals in circulation, double the amount in 1921.[7] From the independence of Burma from the United Kingdom in 1948 until 1962, the country experienced a temporary period of democracy and free media. Journalist U Thaung founded Kyemon (The Mirror Daily) in 1957, and its 90,000 circulation was Burma's largest.[8]

Military rule (1962–present)

After the March 1962 coup d'état, journalists quickly responded by forming the Burma Press Council in order to protect press freedom.[9] Within a month however, several journalists were arrested and publications shut down. By 1988, the number of newspapers had decreased from 30 to 8.[9] The media gradually became the monopoly of the military junta under Ne Win.

The press environment remains tightly controlled in the country. Journalists are often harassed, arrested or jailed for reporting unfavourable news that reflects badly on the country or the regime.[10] The media is also instructed to vilify opposition members.[4] Burmese media acts as the mouthpiece for the regime, where during the anti-government protests in 2007, it labelled the protesters as "devils"[11] and blamed foreign media for starting the protests.[12] Several media outlets were closed down after refusing to publish propaganda.[13] However, many outlets stopped publication as a mark of solidarity with the protesters.[12]

Subjects out of bounds for journalists include discussions of democracy, the legitimacy of the regime, political corruption, HIV/AIDS, the aftermath of natural disasters and the national football team losing,[8][14] though some attempt to hide criticism amongst words or images.[8] Because the media is restricted from reporting negative events in this way, it can often be unreliable.[4] Words by Aung San Suu Kyi are rarely covered in the media.[15] Similarly, references to the United Nations are rare, as the junta views the organisation of trying to overthrow the regime.[5] The Burmese state-owned media also speaks ill of the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.[5] The Burmese government is wary of international media, and as a consequence, many news organisations are banned from reporting in the country.[5] One senior General accused foreign media of "spreading lies" to undermine national unity.[16] Some private media is allowed, though the government owns around 75% stake in it.[17] In 2005, several domestic journalists were released.[18]

There are a total of 20 news agencies based in Myanmar, including Agence France-Press, Associated Press, Reuters and Xinhua.[19] Exile media outlets such as the Democratic Voice of Burma based in Oslo, Norway, seek to promote civil society efforts and freedom of expression within Burma from abroad, while attempting to offer an uncensored perspective on Burmese affairs to the rest of the world.[20]

Media laws

Several media laws are in place across print, broadcast and the Internet media:[5][21]

  • The Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act (1933), enacted by the British government in colonial times, makes it an offense to have in possession any wireless telegraphy apparatus without permission. The act was amended in 1995/6 by the junta to include fax machines and computers.
  • Printers and Publishers Registration Law (1962) requires all publishers to submit copies of books and magazines to Press Scrutiny Boards prior to publication for alterations.
  • Martial Law Order 3/89 (1989) makes it an offense to publish any document without prior registration from the Home and Religious Affairs Ministry.
  • The Television and Video Act (1995) requires the public and organizations such as the United Nations who possess televisions and video equipment to obtain a license from the Ministry of Communication.
  • The Motion Picture Law (1996) states that licenses to make films must be obtained from the Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise, which are later censored if necessary.
  • The Computer Science Development Law (1996) requires the media to have prior permission from the Ministry of Communication before using, importing or possessing computer equipment.
  • Internet Law (2000) imposes regulations on postings on the Internet that may be deemed to be detrimental to the country, its policies or security affairs.
  • Wide Area Network Establishment and Service Providing order No. 3/2002.
  • Electronic Transactions Law (2004) promotes and regulates the Internet and other electronic transactions in a wide variety of ways, including defining penalties of up to 15 years in prison for using electronic transactions (a) to commit "any act detrimental to the security of the State or prevalence of law and order or community peace and tranquility or national solidarity or national economy or national culture", and (b) for "receiving or sending and distributing any information relating to secrets of the security of the State or prevalence of law and order or community peace and tranquility or national solidarity or national economy or national culture".[22]

Newspapers and journals

All newspaper articles, regardless of content, must pass through the censor board at the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, set up by the Ministry of Information in 2005.[23] Despite the tight press laws, there a wide variety of publications available. Some foreign publications from Thailand and India appear occasionally, though are sometimes removed.[12] Magazines are less affected by the strict press laws compared to newspapers, as many avoid discussion of the political situation.[23] There are a huge variety of magazines, ranging from monthly to biannuals, although their market is smaller compared to the "journals". Topics include Burmese traditional medicine, various magazines published by non-Burmese ethnic races (like the Shan and Rakhine), Buddhist and astronomy related magazines. There are also about 15 newspapers published daily, devoted entirely to football. In all, there are 187 weekly journals registered to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division under the Ministry of Information.[24]

On occasion, only the Myanmar Times has been allowed to break regulation and discuss articles that would try to cast the junta in a positive light, such as the relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi.[8][25]

Weekly Eleven news journal, The Voice Weekly and 7 Days News journal are some of popular journals in Myanmar.

Television and radio

Like print media, all broadcast media is owned by the government except for MM which is the only private TV in Burma. The Video Act of 1985 outlined what media could tape.[26] There are seven TV stations in Myanmar, of which, MTV1 and MTV2 are the main channels. And another channel by government is MRTV. MRTV-3 is an English language channel aimed at an international audience. During the 2007 protests, the stations were used to broadcast messages critical of foreign media.[12](YouTube clip) Due to lack of equipment, newsreaders often have to read directly off their notes instead of an autocue.[27] Satellite television is illegal, though many citizens watch it.[28] Television broadcasts regularly feature members of the military, visiting monasteries and handing out gifts of money and religious material.[29] In February 2010, CNN was removed from Burmese TV because the authorities didn't want their citizens to see the predominantly U.S. aid for Haitian earthquake victims.[citation needed]

Radio broadcasting began in 1936, with the Burma Broadcasting Service beginning operation ten years later.[5] Today there are 2FM stations 1AM station and 3 shortwave stations. The main radio stations are Radio Myanmar (operated by MRTV) and City FM.[5] Radio Myanmar usually beings daily with readings from the governments' "Seven Point Road to Democracy", "Twelve Political, Economic and Social Objectives" and "Three Main National Causes".[30] Little or no foreign music is permitted, instead a variety of traditional Burmese classics are played, according to the Union Solidarity and Development Association.[30] However, local radio stations usually play internationally known songs, re-recorded in Burmese.[30] Unlike Radio Myanmar, City FM is primarily an entertainment station. Radio sets are usually tuned to government stations, however, uncensored information from stations such as BBC, VOA, Radio Free Asia and Democratic Voice of Burma (based in Oslo, Norway) are available from sets smuggled into the country and are popular, though some people caught listening to broadcasts have been arrested.[23] Before internet access became available, foreign radio stations were a major source of information, which often helped to break the media blackout in the country.[31]

Given the population of Burma, impact from radio and television has not been significant - only 10%, due to poor living conditions.[4]

Internet media

The internet in Burma is strictly controlled, with access blocked to websites critical of the junta, Burmese exile groups, and foreign media.[23] Government approval is usually needed to own a computer and other electronic devices capable of accessing outside information.[8] And Internet access varies due to electricity shortages.[14]

The internet media has yet to make a significant impact in Burma, where according to official statistics, as of July 2010, there were only 400,000 Internet users (0.8% of the population).[32] However during the anti-government protests in 2007, some footage was posted on video sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr which gave international media an inside look at the protests.[12]

A number of Burmese exile sites publish information from inside Burma, including Mizzima (based in New Delhi), The Irrawaddy (based in Thailand), Freedom News Group (based in Bangkok and U.S.),[33] and BurmaNet News.[34]

See also


  1. ^ Press Freedom Index 2010, Reporters Without Borders, 20 October 2010
  2. ^ Kyodo (9 October 2011). "Myanmar censorship chief calls for lifting of press scrutiny". Mainichi Shimbun. 
  3. ^ Harvey, Rachel (8 October 2011). "Burma censor chief calls for more media freedom". BBC News. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Thomson Gale (2006)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Banerjee, I. & Logan, S. Asian Communication Handbook 2008. AMIC, 2008. ISBN 978-981-4136-10-5.
  6. ^ Bo (2006).
  7. ^ a b Ikeya, Chie (2008). "The Modern Burmese Woman and the Politics of Fashion in Colonial Burma". The Journal of Asian Studies (Cambridge University Press) 67 (04): 1277–1308. doi:10.1017/S0021911808001782. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Myanmar Media Press reference.
  9. ^ a b Smith, M. J. (1991). Burma : insurgency and the politics of ethnicity. London ; Atlantic Highlands, N.J., USA : Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-85649-660-5.
  10. ^ "Myanmar journalists face intimidation, pressure from junta", Jakarta Post, December 19, 2008.
  11. ^ Monks tear gassed in Burma protest, Bangkok Post, September 19, 2007.
  12. ^ a b c d e Press Freedom Index 2008, Reporters Without Borders, 22 October 2008
  13. ^ Burma Cracks Down on Journalists, Internet, Oneworld, September 28, 2007.
  14. ^ a b Country Profile: Burma, BBC
  15. ^ Heenan, P. & Lamontagne, M. The Southeast Asia Handbook: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Taylor & Francis, 2001. ISBN 978-1-884964-97-8.
  16. ^ "Foreign media spread lies", Straits Times, April 5, 2009
  17. ^ In Exile or At Home, Working in Burma's Media Isn't Easy , Mindanao Examiner, February 21, 2009.
  18. ^ Annual Report - Burma, Reporters Without Borders.
  19. ^ Myanmar to introduces journalism degree course for first time, People's Daily Online, September 5, 2007.
  20. ^ Khin Maung Win (2009). "Emerging freedom of expression". Development and Cooperation (Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurter-Societät) 36 (5): 192–194. 
  21. ^ "Myanmar Law (1988-2004)", Burma Lawyer' Council
  22. ^ Chapter XII, Section 33 of the Electronic Transactions Law (The State Peace and Development Council Law No. 5/2004), 30 April 2004
  23. ^ a b c d Freedom House Press Freedom Report 2007
  24. ^ Non-publishing journals to be closed. Myanmar Times 24 (477). June 29 - July 5, 2009
  25. ^ U Aung Kyi meets Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
  26. ^ Quick, A. C. World Press Encyclopedia: A Survey of Press Systems Worldwide. Gale, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7876-5583-9.
  27. ^ Lewis, G. Virtual Thailand: The Media and Cultural Politics in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Taylor & Francis, 2006. ISBN 978-0-415-36499-7.
  28. ^ Cobban, H. The Moral Architecture of World Peace: Nobel Laureates Discuss Our Global Future. University of Virginia Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8139-1987-4.
  29. ^ Burma in Perspective: An Orientation Guide, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. Technology Integration Division (October 2008)
  30. ^ a b c Radio Myanmar at Sublime Frequencies
  31. ^ Wilson, T. Myanmar's Long Road to National Reconciliation. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006. ISBN 978-981-230-363-9.
  32. ^ Wai-Yan Phyo Oo and Saw Pyayzon (2010-07-30). "State of Internet Usage in Myanmar" (in Burmese). Bi-Weekly Eleven (Yangon) 3 (18): 1–2. 
  33. ^ Freedom News Group
  34. ^ BurmaNet News

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.

External links

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