Burma | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2004

2004 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


The ruling military junta continues to restrict press freedom tightly. A 1996 decree banning speech or statements that "undermine national stability" remains in effect and is zealously implemented. Other laws require private publications to apply for annual licenses and criminalize the use of unregistered telecommunications equipment, computers, and software. In November, Zaw Thet Htway, an editor of First Eleven, was arrested and convicted of treason after the sports magazine published articles dealing with corruption in local sports. A number of other journalists and writers remained in jail throughout the year as a result of expressing dissident views. The small number of foreign reporters, allowed to enter Burma only on special visas, are subjected to intense scrutiny while in the country. Although there are harsh penalties for anyone caught listening to them, foreign radio broadcasts remain a primary source of balanced news for many Burmese, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The government owns all broadcast media and daily newspapers and exercises tight control over a growing number of weekly and monthly publications. It subjects private periodicals to prepublication censorship and limits coverage to a small range of permissible topics. While official media outlets serve as mouthpieces of the state, private media generally avoid political news, and many journalists practice self-censorship. Local media were forbidden to report on a banking crisis in February 2003, and coverage of the May 30 crackdown on Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party was limited to pro-government propaganda. A stagnant economy and limited market for advertising revenue (following a 2002 ban on advertising Thai products) threatens the financial viability of the private press. The BBC reported that publishers faced additional difficulties when the price of newsprint rose by almost 50 percent following the imposition of U.S. sanctions in July.