Journals Warned over Maung Aye Reports

By The Irrawaddy 13 July 2012

Two Rangoon-based journals have been warned that they could be shut down for violating censorship rules after they carried reports about the health of retired Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye, the second-in-command of Burma’s former ruling junta, according to sources.

The Yangon Times and Venus news journals were told by officials of the country’s censorship board, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), that if they publish articles about censored subjects again, they will be forced to shut down.

Maung Aye reportedly suffered from a paralytic stroke on July 8 and went to Singapore for further treatment. At the time, the PSRD gave strongly worded instructions to news journals not to report it.

Despite this warning, however, the two journals gave extensive coverage to the news the next day. Responsible persons from the journals were subsequently summoned by the PSRD.

“The PSRD director gave them an official warning that this should be the last time they report about something censored and that their publications will be completely seized if they do it again,” confirmed a PSRD official who asked to remain anonymous.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy, employees of the two journals said that it was true they received a warning from the PSRD, but declined to provide further details.

The incident has added to criticism of the government of President Thein Sein, which has relaxed controls on the media since coming to power last year, but continues to impose restrictions on coverage of issues it deems sensitive, including recent violence in Arakan State.

Some journalists who spoke to The Irrawaddy condemned the latest move by the PSRD as further evidence of what they see as the insincerity of Thein Sein’s administration.

“Since this so-called democratic government was sworn in, The Voice journal has been sued and the Snapshot journal has been suspended and sued. Now, The Yangon Times and Venus are being threatened. Where is freedom of information and press freedom?” remarked one veteran journalist in Rangoon.

Earlier this year, Minister of Information Kyaw Hsan pledged to dissolve the PSRD by the end of June, but some journalists say that it has actually stepped up its scrutiny and censorship activities in recent months.

Others say that while the PSRD has not been as overtly heavy-handed as in the past, other means, including the threat of lawsuits, have been used to keep Burma’s media in line.

“All journals still have to work under the PSRD. It’s true that we enjoy more freedom than before, but the system is still the same one that was in place under the former military regime. We are still controlled, and now there are many cases of legal action being taken against the media. Journalists face jail terms as well,” said the editor of a Rangoon-based journal.

According to officials from the Ministry of Information, a bill on printed media will be submitted to Parliament during the current session. The bill was drafted by the ministry, reportedly without the participation of journalists.