By Min Lwin
Burma’s draconian censor board has banned domestic media from covering in detail the uprising in Libya over fears that it will stir zeal among Burmese citizens, journalists have said.
“We are under heavy censoring right now and cannot write anything about Arab [countries], even a small mention of [Muammar] Gaddafi,” said one Rangoon-based journalist, referring to the embattled Libyan autocrat who is facing the biggest threat to his 42-year reign over the North African nation as protests enter their fifth week and civil war looms.
The journalist, who spoke to DVB on condition of anonymity, said that the restrictions on Libya reporting had been in place for two weeks, but similar curbs had accompanied the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Burma’s media environment is among the strictest in the world, and all material is required to be passed before the censor board, known as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), prior to publishing.
“We get turned down whenever we submit stories about [the revolutions] – you can only write very briefly about what’s going on [in the Middle East], but not like analysis pieces,” he added. “For example, you can only write about the protests, but not about dictators stepping down or brutal crackdowns on the protests.”
The Burmese junta was rocked by its own protests in September 2007 that, despite a media blackout, made headlines across the world. Many commentators have questioned why the success of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, where dictators had held the reins for decades, was not matched in Burma.
Domestic news outlets are heavily regulated by the government, with many acting as mouthpieces for the military. The New Light of Myanmar carried as its front-page news on 27 September 2007, the day after the bloody crackdown on protestors began, a story about government officials observing the monthly Full Moon Day. The only mention made of the protests was a bullet-point brief about “disruptive” foreign media egging on the protestors.
The unrest across the Middle East has sparked a surge in global oil prices, in turn triggering inflation in Burma and a rise in costs of oil, gold and rice, the latter prompting the Burmese government to block exports of rice.