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One of the world’s most repressive media environments has been given a superficial lift after the new Burmese president demanded that people and the government “respect the role of the media”.
Speaking in parliament yesterday, Thein Sein described media as the “fourth estate” in Burmese society, but with somewhat veiled language told MPs that they were “required [through media] to inform the people about what they should know”.
Observers may interpret that demand as a sign that little has changed in Burma, where the junta has held an iron grip on domestic media and used it as a vessel on which to transmit its virulently nationalist rhetoric.
Around 25 media workers are behind bars in Burma, many of whom work as underground reporters for exiled news groups such as DVB, which the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper accuses daily of “generating public outrage”.
Burmese filmmakers yesterday called on the new government, which was sworn in on Wednesday, to relax the draconian censorship laws that analysts say renders freedom of expression in the country almost non-existent.
“We wish for a change in censorship policies and more freedom for film and art-making,” said renowned film director Maung Myo Min. “In international countries, they can make horror, suspense and sci-fi films, and films about assassinating the president, but in Burma we don’t have the freedom to do that.”
Maung Myo Min is among a number of media icons that have in the past been banned by the junta for treading too close to the line. He is among around a dozen artists who in December last year were blacklisted by the information ministry and are no longer given airtime on television and radio stations.
The order had been put out by the Ministry of Information, which oversees Burma’s notorious censor board. The board blocks all politically sensitive material from being distributed and demands that any printed worked is vetted closely prior to publication.
Calls for the formation of a new film committee have also gone unanswered. “I used to dream for a film body that consisted of [representatives] of directors and actors to negotiate with the new government improve the quality of the film and video industry,” said film director Sho Nyo Htun Thein. “But our film industry doesn’t have any leadership so no one organise such a committee.”