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Burmese junta seeks at all cost to control news coming out of Irrawaddy delta

Burmese junta seeks at all cost to control news coming out of Irrawaddy delta
Voices unheard: Cyclone Nargis survivors wait for relief food in the remote village of Kennosaukyaung in Myanmar's cyclone-hit town of Bogalay. The country's junta has tightened security across the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy Delta and has denied evicting storm victims from emergency shelters and forcing them to return to ruined villages.Photo: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

The Burmese junta has taken a series of measures in the past few days to control news and information coming out of the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta

According to Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) and the Burma Media Association (BMA), an organisation of Burmese journalists in exile, the blogger and comedian known by the stage name of Zarganar was arrested without explanation on June 5.

The police began confiscating satellite dishes on June 6 in order to deny Burmese access to foreign news media. And the official press published articles denigrating the foreign media on June 8. Furthermore, several journalists have been expelled in recent weeks and it has become impossible to get a press visa.

“We call for the immediate release of Zarganar, whose arrest is typical of the contempt shown by the junta towards those who express themselves freely,” the two organisations said. “Zarganar is very well known in Burma. In his sketches and in the blog he has keep since August 2007 (http://zarganar-windoor.blogspot.com/), he defends human rights and condemns the junta’s behaviour. He had become a source of news and information.”

Zarganar, who has been dubbed the “Burmese Charlie Chaplin,” gave an interview to a foreign TV station on the eve of his arrest in which he criticised the government and referred to a group of 400 people who have managed to provide relief assistance to the victims of last month’s cyclone despite a government ban. The group cooperated with another one founded by a Buddhist month.

The authorities told Zarganar’s family that they would hold him for “only two days” in order to question him, but he has not been released. “Many journalists are being prevented from working freely and the foreign media are being attacked in the official press, which is trying to discredit them,” RSF/BMA said. “Activists are playing a vital role in providing news and information through what they are posting online. We condemn the way the authorities are deliberately trying seal the citizens of the Irrawaddy delta behind a wall of silence.”

Several foreign journalists, including CNN and Time reporters have been deported in the past few weeks and others have been refused visas.

The New Light of Myanmar, a government newspaper, referred to “enemy” radio stations on June 8. "The storm is now no more. However, the enemy that is more destructive than (Cyclone) Nargis has reared its ugly head," the newspaper said. "It is time (that) the foreign broadcasting stations and their accomplices knew that their instigation and propaganda are good for nothing. And they should stop broadcasting such kinds of fabricated news."

According to Burmese exile media reports , the police are also confiscating the satellite dishes that Burmese citizens use to receive foreign TV stations. Around 50 dishes were reportedly seized from a Rangoon store on June 6.

The Burmese board of censors has banned news and pictures about the cyclone not only in local newspapers and monthly magazines but also in foreign magazines, such as the May 26 and June 2 issues of Time magazine.

The government, according to a Mizzima News report, raised the annual licence fees for satellite dishes after the "saffron revolution" in September of 2007. Local residents speculated that the move to raise licence fees was intended to curb the flow of information about the brutal crackdown on protesters at that time. Similarly, the government is trying to restrict the sending and receiving of photographs, video clips and other information with the intention of imposing a news blackout and stopping international news services from being viewed.

After the high licence fees were imposed, sales of satellite dishes fell drastically. Many shops have stopped selling the dishes. "We stopped satellite dish sales after licence fees increased and the business became sluggish," the owner of the Hla Han & Sons satellite dish shop told Mizzima. International television news services were popular among people in Rangoon after the "saffron revolution".

A former National League for Democracy (NLD) party member felt that the current restrictions on satellite dish sales have to do with restricting the flow of information to the outside world regarding the true facts following the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis on May 2.

Date posted: June 11, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 627