Silenced Station Linked to Shwe Mann Asked to ‘Guarantee’ Impartiality

By Moe Myint 17 August 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Information has asked broadcaster Cherry FM, which was taken off the air late last week amid a surprise political shuffle, to “guarantee” impartiality in order to resume its programming.

The station was cut off on Friday following a late-night reconstitution of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), during which parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann was ousted from his post as party chairman.

The sudden closure of Cherry FM, which is one of about 10 semi-governmental radio stations in Burma and is run by Shwe Mann’s daughter-in-law, prompted theories of a government-led gag order against his allies.

Minister of Information Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the station—which is the only one to receive such an order—would be allowed to resume upon certain conditions.

“We demanded that Cherry FM guarantee two things; not to broadcast any sort of canvassing for the [USDP] or candidates in the election, and not to get involved in USDP’s internal issues,” the minister said. “Especially because the station’s owner is Speaker Shwe Mann’s son[’s wife].”

The minister did not elaborate on what form such a guarantee might take.

Cherry FM general manager Than Htwe Zaw declined to comment on the closure, offering only that the station’s management is “trying to get the best solution.” The manager met with Ye Htut in Naypyidaw on Saturday but they have yet to reach an agreement.

Current law requires broadcasters to partner with Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), a state-owned enterprise operating under the Ministry of Information. Ye Htut said that all stations had been instructed over the last month not to promote candidates or political parties.

Last week’s shake-up, however, caused the ministry to “doubt” Cherry’s neutrally, Ye Htut said. The station was then promptly taken off the air. Two USDP newspapers, the Union Daily and Leader Weekly journal, were also abruptly shut down.

Burma has enjoyed some new media freedoms since the onset of political reforms beginning in 2011, such as the dissolution of pre-publication censorship and a series of new laws related to press, though the government has also been accused of backsliding on new freedoms.

A new broadcast bill would allow for private radio stations, though it has not yet been approved and has come under heavy criticism as it could favor those that partner with the government and remain under the ministry.

Myint Kyaw of the Myanmar Journalist Network said the shutdown bodes badly for broadcasters, indicating that they must ultimately “obey the instruction of the military.”

“The Myanmar government restricts broadcast media more than print because they think the impact is bigger,” he said.