By Naw Noreen
Internet users in Burma said the government has lifted a ban on foreign-based news websites yesterday, making them accessible for the first time since they were blocked in 2003, they welcomed the move saying that they hope it will remain this way.
Foreign publications such as the Reuters news agency, the BBC, VOA, RFA, the Bangkok Post and DVB were all unblocked along with the user generated video web site Youtube, after previously appearing with a screen saying they had been blocked by the Myanmar Post and telecommunications department.
A young internet user in Rangoon told DVB that, “Now we can get access to the foreign media websites that were previously banned. It is a good thing as we can now get access to information that is banned by domestic news media. However, there are still a lot of websites that remain under the ban… and as the connection speed is still slow, we are still unable to use websites like Youtube so it is necessary to increase the internet speed as well.
“I agree that some websites needed to be banned since they are not suitable for our Burmese culture. There will be a more signs of improvement if they lift more bans in the future.”
A journalist inside Burma said it was not clear why the government decided to lift the ban on the websites but speculated that it was due to the government allowing greater media freedom in the country.
“Before, the flow of information in Burma was just one way and [lifting the website ban] implies [the govt] is now allowing a two-way information flow. These days, we are allowed to say critical things on our websites and before that, we could only mostly publish the information given by government departments.”
“For example, regarding situation with the Myitsone Dam, we can publish critical opinions by experts and the public. Also, we can now publish articles written by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and this shows an extant of changes happening. I think lifting of the ban on websites such as VOA, RFA, Irrawaddy, DVB and Youtube are part of the system changing,” said the journalist.
However, internet users said although the ban was lifted, they were still unable to listen to radio programmes and video clips on the websites due to slow internet connection.
The lifting of the ban comes after government newspapers stopped publishing warnings about foreign and exiled media groups.
Internet penetration in the country remains tiny however, most still rely on radio and television which is still tightly controlled for domestic stations.
Moreover repression of journalists shows no sign of abating, particularly under the country’s notorious electronics act a ‘law’ which saw young DVB journalist Sithu Zeya recently given an additional 10 years to an 8 year jail term. He is amongst 17 DVB journalists behind bars because of their work.