The Burmese regime’s psychological warfare department is soon to launch a daily newspaper in what one analyst said could be a move to counter the growing influence of the internet.
The launch of The Myawaddy, which will be headquartered in Naypyidaw, brings to four the number of state-run daily newspapers in Burma, all of which act as mouthpieces for the ruling junta.
Political analyst Aung Naing Oo told DVB that the move was yet another attempt by the junta to counter the flow of independent media in Burma that has spread as more Burmese log on to the internet.
Although Burma has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world, social networking sites have grown in popularity. Burmese junta chief Than Shwe is believed to have eyed with concern the key role played by social media and SMS messaging in the ongoing Middle East uprisings.
Zinn Linn, deputy head of the Burma Media Association, told DVB that the junta’s Directorate of Public Relations and Psychological Warfare, which comes under the intelligence department, had a chequered history of using media as a propaganda tool.
“When they [the military government] were fighting against the communist revolt and the Karen and ethnic revolts, through the psychological warfare department they delivered false information: for example, [Burmese troops] bombed pagodas and railway lines and through the media they blamed it on the armed opposition.”
The directorate comes under Burma’s Military Affairs Security department, formerly known as Military Intelligence, which is headed by Major General Kyaw Swe. The other state-run daily newspapers, Kyaymon, the New Light of Myanmar, Myanmar Ahlin and the Yadanabon, are all under the Ministry of Information.
The launch date of The Myawaddy is set for 27 March, otherwise known as Armed Forces Day. The decision to launch it on the same day as segments of Burmese society celebrate the country’s maligned military is telling, Zinn Linn says.
“Anyone who think media freedom has improved since the [November 2010] elections is dreaming,” he said. “On the surface the Myawaddy will be a colourful publication with nice pictures to attract people’s interest, but in essence it’s a vessel that the so-called civilian government can use to spread false news and propaganda.”
The psychological warfare department also runs Myawaddy TV and the Myawaddy magazine.
Newspapers such as the New Light of Myanmar are littered with mantras demanding that Burmese “Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy” and “Oppose those trying to jeopardize stability of the State and progress of the nation”, whilst reserving a space to warn that media such as DVB is “generating public outrage”.
Apart from a handful of privately-owned magazines that nonetheless come under strict censorship by the ruling junta, all newspapers are state owned and often act as the government mouthpiece.
Front-page articles seldom deviate away from coverage of ribbon-cutting ceremonies or diplomatic visits to the handful of countries still allied with Burma, while any material or opinion critical of the government is strictly prohibited.
All published material in Burma must first be approved by the Press Registration and Scrutiny Division (PRSD), which often takes days. Ross Dunkley, the detained former editor of the Myanmar Times, the only newspaper in Burma with foreign funding, has said in the past that some 20 percent of its articles submitted to the censor board are rejected,
More than 20 media workers are in jail, some serving sentences of up to 27 years.