For the first time since opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi set off on her historic trip to Europe last week, Burmese viewers back home have been given a chance to see her deliver one of her headline-grabbing speeches.
After a week of speaking at some of the world’s most important venues, it was Suu Kyi’s address to both houses of the British Parliament on Thursday that finally made it onto the airwaves in her home country, on a new subscription-only television channel that is the only rival to state-run TV.
SkyNet, Burma’s only privately owned television network, carried the speech live late Thursday evening local time—much to the amazement of users of Facebook and other social media sites, some of whom declared that perhaps it was sign that media freedom really has come to Burma after all.
While print media such as Burma’s many weekly journals managed to skirt the censors and provide fairly full coverage of Suu Kyi’s trip—her first to Europe in 24 years—the state-run media has maintained a stony silence on her string of high-level engagements, including her belated acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991.
That event did, however, get a brief mention on SkyNet last weekend, when Suu Kyi belatedly collected her award. The network, which carried a CNN report on the Nobel speech, is owned by Shwe Than Lwin Media, a company led by Kyaw Win, a well-known crony of Burma’s former ruling generals.
Although at least one senior official acknowledged that Suu Kyi’s five-nation tour of Europe was a newsworthy event—Industrial Minister Soe Thein said during his own trip to Norway earlier this week that he was “proud of a Myanmar lady in Europe”—others seemed eager to play down its significance.
At a press conference at Copenhagen University on Tuesday, Ye Htut, the director general of the Information and Public Relations Department of Burma’s Ministry of Information, was asked why the country’s state-run media did not cover Suu Kyi’s Nobel acceptance speech.
According to the woman who asked the question—Khin Moe Moe, the administrator of the Burma Campaign Denmark—Ye Htut’s answer was that “Daw Suu is just an ordinary parliamentarian” whose activities were no more important than those of an MP from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.
“State media should not favor one political party over another,” he said, adding that if Suu Kyi had come to Europe to represent Burma’s Parliament, it would have been a different matter.
This assessment of Suu Kyi’s status ignores, however, that it was her meeting with President Thein Sein last August that marked a key turning point in government-led reforms that had previously been regarded with deep skepticism.
For her part, Suu Kyi did not begrudge Thein Sein the credit she felt he was due, even as she emphasized that real reforms would require much broader participation in the political process than the country has seen so far.
In her Nobel lecture, she said: “The reform measures that were put into motion by President U Thein Sein’s government can be sustained only with the intelligent cooperation of all internal forces—the military, our ethnic nationalities, political parties, the media, civil society organizations, the business community and, most important of all, the general public.”