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Despite tough 2016, Burma rises in global media freedom rankings

Burma rose 12 places in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, amid larger global trends over the past year indicating “that media freedom is under threat now more than ever,” according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has compiled the index annually since 2002.

Released on Wednesday, the World Press Freedom Index ranks Burma 131st out of 180 countries surveyed, one spot ahead of fellow ASEAN nation Cambodia and notably leapfrogging neighbour Thailand, which ranked 142nd this year. In 2016, Thailand was ranked 136th and Burma clocked in at 143rd.

Burma’s rise in the ranks, however, may be reflective not of improvement as much as the country’s relative position on a global map that looks “ever darker” where press freedom is concerned; for Burma, 2016 was a year that saw journalists killed, jailed and barred access for months to strife-torn northern Arakan State.

“After the National League for Democracy’s election victory, Burmese journalists hoped that they would never again have to fear arrest or imprisonment for criticizing the government or the military. However, media freedom unfortunately does not have a place amongst the new government’s priorities,” RSF said.

Just last week, RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists released statements of concern regarding the killing of Wai Yan Heinn, publisher of a journal in Rangoon. Police have since claimed the murder was not related to anything published by the Iron Rose journal, which has in the past included critical coverage of the government and military.


In December of last year, Eleven Media journalist Soe Moe Tun was found beaten to death in Sagaing Division. He was reportedly working on a story about illegal logging at the time of his death.

In an unrelated case, Eleven Media’s chief editor and CEO are currently standing trial on defamation charges related to an article written by the latter that implied quid pro quo dealings involving the Rangoon Division chief minister. Wai Phyo and Than Htut Aung were arrested in November and are being prosecuted under the notorious article 66(d) of Burma’s Telecommunications Law.

Norway was ranked No. 1 in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, while North Korea had the ignominious distinction of being deemed the world’s worst place for press freedom.


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