Burma | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 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 Burmese media are among the most tightly restricted in the world. The ruling military junta zealously implements a 1996 decree banning speech or statements that "undermine national stability," and those who publicly express or disseminate views critical of the regime are subject to strict penalties that include lengthy prison terms. Although four journalists and writers were released from jail throughout the year, a number remained imprisoned as a result of expressing dissident views. The sentence of journalist Zaw Thet Htwe-editor of a sports magazine who was detained in June 2003, accused of involvement in a "conspiracy" against the government, and sentenced to death in November for treason-was reduced in May 2004 to three years' imprisonment.

Other laws require private publications to apply for annual licenses and criminalize the use of unregistered telecommunications equipment, computers, and software. Both local and foreign journalists face significant restrictions in their ability to cover the news. In August, a local documentary filmmaker was arrested after he filmed footage of a flooding disaster in northern Kachin state. A small number of foreign reporters are allowed to enter Burma on special visas; they are generally subjected to intense scrutiny while in the country and in past years have occasionally been deported. In May, authorities moved to limit coverage of the national convention, refusing to grant visas to foreign correspondents and imposing advance censorship on the dissemination of the proceedings.

The government owns all broadcast media and daily newspapers and exercises tight control over a growing number of privately owned 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. In September, the bimonthly current affairs journal Khit-Sann was closed by military censors because of its allegedly pro-American editorial policy. After the October 2004 purge of Khin Nyunt, prime minister and military intelligence (MI) chief, the new hard-line leadership took control of the Censorship Bureau (which previously had been controlled by the MI ministry) and suspended 17 publications, most indefinitely. Authorities restrict the importation of foreign news periodicals, and although some people have access to international short-wave radio or satellite television, those caught accessing foreign broadcasts can be arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Internet, which operates in a limited fashion in the cities, is expensive, tightly regulated, and censored. Bagan Cybertech, the main Internet service provider that was formerly owned by Khin Nyunt's son, was taken over by the government in November. A stagnant economy, increased prices for newsprint, and a limited market for advertising revenue (following a 2002 ban on advertising Thai products) have further threatened the financial viability of the private press.