RANGOON — Burma’s newly assertive press corps rallied Saturday against the suspension of two weekly magazines in a once unthinkable act of defiance against government censors.
Dressed in black T-shirts that read “Stop Killing Media,” about 60 journalists held a petition drive to collect signatures from members of the media. The petition, addressed to President Thein Sein, calls for an end to censorship.
Thein Sein has eased censorship as part of sweeping reforms after decades of repressive military rule, but some forms of control still exist, as authorities made clear by suspending the Voice Weekly and Envoy this past week.
The Press Scrutiny Board informed the two weeklies that their publications were suspended for violating regulations, but did not explain further.
Reporters at the publications said they suspected the suspensions were linked to articles speculating about the details of an anticipated Cabinet reshuffle. The flourishing of press freedom has brought serious investigative reporting as well as sensationalism, both of which make the government uncomfortable.
A day after the suspension, nearly 100 journalists formed a group called the Committee for Freedom of the Press, which organized Saturday’s rally in which journalists went to six media offices to gather signatures for the petition.
“News media are still being censored,” says the petition drafted by the committee. “The recent suspension of (the two publications) shows the threats media face and the negative signs that exist despite the democratization process of Myanmar.”
Journalists at the event called it historic.
“I’ve been working in media for 14 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Kyaw Naing, an editor from Voice Weekly. “We’ve never had the opportunity to speak our minds on press freedoms.”
But in a sign of the limitations that still exist, censors declared that information about Saturday’s event was not suitable for publication.
Thant Zin, chief editor of The Nation news weekly, said it had hoped to publish a story on its front page and sent a draft to the censorship board, as is required. They received a prompt reply.
“We were informed by the censorship board that this news is not allowed to be published,” he said.