Airtime scrapped for ‘political’ artists

Around a dozen entertainment artists were yesterday blacklisted by Burma’s information ministry and will no longer be given airtime on television and radio stations.

The list of those banned includes singers, actors, directors and writers, as well as the former actor Kyaw Thu, who now runs the acclaimed Free Funeral Service Society, an official at Yangon [Rangoon] City FM radio station told DVB. The majority had visited the care home for HIV patients in Rangoon that was initially ordered to close following a visit by Aung San Suu Kyi last week.

It remains unclear whether material produced by the writers included in the list will be banned from print publications, a tabloid journal editor in Rangoon said. Likewise, performance artists are yet to find out whether the ban extends to live shows.

The MoI oversees Burma’s notorious censor board, which blocks all politically sensitive material from being distributed and orders that any printed worked is vetted by the board prior to publication.

“We are artists and not political activists,” said Kyaw Thu. “However, what matters for our country matters for us. We were just doing humanitarian work as it’s the right thing to do for human beings.

“The artists are contributing what they can and it’s quite a disgraceful act to ban and blacklist them for it.”

He added that the ruling junta should make the distinction between humanitarian work and political activity. This it famously failed to do following 2008’s devastating cyclone Nargis, when numbers of Burmese aid workers and teams of people who buried corpses were given lengthy jail terms.

Mainstream artists in Burma tend to steer clear of including political commentary in their work. The country’s most famous performer, the comedian Zarganar, is serving a 35-year prison sentence after he gave interviews to foreign media critical of the junta’s response to the cyclone.

Kyaw Thu’s wife, Shwe Zeegwat, is also included in the ban, along with writer Than Myint Aung, who is in the FFSS. Joining them are singers Saung Oo Hlaing and Than Thar Win, rapper Anegga, punk-rock musician Kyar Pauk and film directors Maung Myo Myin, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and Cho Tu Zaw.

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