the kicker

The Ongoing Burmese "Information Challenge"

December 2, 2010

Over at PBS MediaShift, Simon Roughneen has a fascinating report on the ongoing difficulties of “getting the news out of Burma,” the lengths to which the ruling junta goes to block the flow of information out of and within the country, and how the junta’s planned “new ISP regime,” dividing the military, government and general ISPs into separate services, is likely to “enhance surveillance and online snooping, and make the country’s few bloggers more vulnerable than ever to arrest.”

More from Roughneen:

Any hope that the release of [well-known political dissident, Aung San Suu Kyi on November 13] signals even a tentative loosening-up appear to be misplaced. The military censors have stuck to the old ways, as evidenced by the fact that only ten of the country’s 100-plus privately owned publications were sanctioned to offer coverage of the release of Suu Kyi. All publications in Burma must have their content approved in advance by the Press Scrutiny Board. Speaking at a seminar on post-election Burma in Bangkok on November 23, Aung Zaw, the editor of Irrawaddy, a news magazine based in Thailand but run by Burmese journalists, told me that “media in Burma are trying to push the envelope with the censor, since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Shawn Crispin, southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told me there is a “yawning news gap” caused by heavy censorship and intimidation inside Burma. Burmese exiles try to fill the void, operating mainly from India and Thailand. Clandestine reporters inside the country take great risks to funnel information to editors in
Chiang Mai, New Delhi and beyond.

Roughneen includes this example of the “daring creativity” displayed by “state-watched media” since Suu Kyi’s release:

Sports journal First Eleven led with a front-page story on the Tuesday after Suu Kyi’s release that was a combination of headlines ostensibly about English Premier League soccer matches, but that also used colored lettering to discuss Suu Kyi’s release. Three innocuous-looking headlines — “Sunderland Freeze Chelsea,” “United Stunned by Villa” and “Arsenal Advance to Grab Their Hope” — read as “Su Free Unite & Advance to Grab The Hope.”

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First Eleven got the ruse past the censors by submitting the advance copy of the page in black and white, but were subsequently hit with a two week publishing ban after the military realized that they had been fooled.

While you’re at it, read Clothilde Le Cloz’s piece on efforts to report on the recent election in Burma.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.