Burma | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Burma

Burma

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

96

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

38

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

28

The Burmese media remained among the most tightly restricted in the world in 2005. 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 that are critical of the regime are subject to strict penalties, including lengthy prison terms. Although several journalists and writers were released from jail throughout the year, others were arrested and a number continue to serve lengthy sentences as a result of expressing dissident views. Other laws require private publications to apply for annual licenses and criminalize the use of unregistered telecommunications equipment, satellite dishes, computers, and software.

Private periodicals are subject to prepublication censorship, with coverage being limited to a small range of permissible topics. The junta's leadership took control of the censorship bureau after the October 2004 purge of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, and a new Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), under the control of the Ministry of Information, was established in April 2005. All publications were then required to reregister with the PSRD, with each periodical expected to provide detailed information about staff, ownership, and financial backing. Under new censorship rules that came into effect in July, media are ostensibly allowed to offer criticism of government projects as long as it is deemed "constructive" and are allowed to report on natural disasters and poverty as long as it does not affect the national interest. Meanwhile, critical coverage of regional allies such as India and China was banned outright, as were op-ed pieces. Ironically, however, the junta forbade the Myanmar Times from publishing a Burmese translation of the new regulations, according to the Southeast Asian Press Alliance. During the year, authorities imposed blackouts on news related to the impact of the December 2004 tsunami and on the May 2005 Rangoon bombings. Several publications were banned temporarily from distributing editions that aroused the ire of censorship authorities. Both local and foreign journalists' ability to cover the news is restricted. A few foreign reporters are allowed to enter Burma only on special visas; they are generally subjected to intense scrutiny while in the country and in past years have occasionally been deported. However, some foreign correspondents were invited to cover the February and December sessions of the National Convention.

The government owns all broadcast media and daily newspapers and exercises tight control over a growing number of privately owned weekly and monthly publications. While official media outlets serve as mouthpieces of the state, private media generally avoid covering domestic political news, and many journalists practice self-censorship. 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. Authorities restrict the importation of foreign news periodicals, and although some people have access to international shortwave radio or satellite television (the main sources of uncensored information), 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 formerly owned by Khin Nyunt's son, was taken over by the government in November 2004; in 2005, authorities moved to deactivate e-mail addresses run by Bagan and block access to websites run by Burmese exile groups.