Amnesty battles a media blackout

Amnesty International has launched a campaign to distribute up to 4,000 radios to remote areas of Burma in an attempt to combat the ruling junta’s domination of inside media.

The organisation’s Burma campaign coordinator, Verity Coyle, told DVB that “it is very difficult to work on Burma; it’s such a closed society”. She believes each radio would be listened to by around 10 people.

“We tried to think about the things that enable people to access their human rights and one of those is access to independent information so that people can make up their own minds, so they can move forward and make informed choices,” she said.

Amnesty has campaigned on Burma for much of its near 50-year lifespan, but the London-based organisation was officially banned from operating in the country in 2004. “We’re not able to have much dialogue with the leadership as we would do with other [countries],” Coyle said.

The organisation functions primarily from individual donors, who are “incredibly committed to Burma”, she added. With elections looming later this year, “we felt that it was really difficult for people in Burma because of the heavily controlled censorship of the media, although we do know that there are exiled media organisations bravely broadcasting back into Burma, giving people the option to learn more”.

The practicalities of disseminating information are a very real problem in Burma, one that the ruling military government is all too aware of. Following the September 2007 uprising, the junta dramatically raised the satellite license fee after images of soldiers shooting into crowds of peaceful protesters were beamed globally.

But radio has a wider reach than television, Coyle believes: “We thought this could be a practical way to help people access more information”.

Amnesty is also looking to supply the most discreet radio sets so as to avoid drawing attention to the recipients. Coyle said they would look to work with local partners to distribute the radios.

“We see this as having a longer impact than just the elections. It has been proven all over the world that access to information about healthcare, about education, can really improve a community’s way of life in different ways.

“We are not looking to influence the ways that people vote or take part in the election, just to open up more information to more people.”

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