Source RSF, 17 Jan
Read a 19 pages report of RSF on Burmese Media Spring via the link here..
Reporters Without Borders is today releasing a report entitled "The Burmese Spring" about the rapid progress that freedom of information has made in Burma, but also about the limits of this progress and the dangers it faces.
The international community is witnessing an unprecedented democratic transition in this Southeast Asian country after half a century of military dictatorship. But, as things stand, the possibility of the reforms being perverted cannot be ruled out.
For 25 years, Reporters Without Borders was on a blacklist that prevented it from visiting Burma. Imprisoned journalists such as Win Tin, one of the symbols of the fight for freedom of information, and Democratic Voice of Burma's video-journalists could only be supported from a distance during this period.
Reporters Without Borders was finally taken off the blacklist on 28 August 2012, allowing it to visit Burma and observe the initial results of government reforms easing restrictions on the media.
"There has been historic progress for the media and the ground covered by the government has been striking, as evidenced in the recently announced revision of the repressive laws affecting the print media," Reporters Without Borders said. "The release of imprisoned journalists and the end of prior censorship represent the start of a new era for Burma's journalists.
"The information ministry's announcement on 28 December that the publication of privately-owned dailies will be permitted from next April is evidence of a commitment to pursue the reforms. But we are now waiting for these promises, especially the creation of independent dailies, to be realized."
Although censorship has been lifted, the censorship bureau, called the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), has still not been disbanded and still wields a great deal of repressive power because it can still suspend any weekly that publishes "forbidden" content.
In the absence of a law providing the media with effective protection, there is a real danger of journalists censoring themselves after decades of government censorship. Officials have not shed their repressive tendencies, as witnessed by the many legal proceedings against privately-owned weeklies in 2012.
The report draws attention to the dangers of media sector transformation without an appropriate legal framework, to the specific problems of exile media that have returned to Burma, and to the lack of adequate media coverage of the humanitarian crisis in the western province of Arakan.
Reporters Without Borders calls on the Burmese government to curb lawsuits against the media and to support the rapid repeal of repressive laws and adoption of a media law that respects freedom of information.
It encourages the Burmese media to increase their interaction with the various journalists' associations and unions in order to revitalize the media sector and defend its interests.
And finally, Reporters Without Borders urges the international community to condition its assistance on respect for fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of information.
Download the report : "The Burmese Spring"
The tension in the western state of Arakan has continued after another outbreak of violence on 21 October and the days that followed. The clashes between Arakan’s ethnic Rakhine and (Muslim) Rohingya communities were triggered by the discovery of the body of a young Rakhine woman, who had apparently been raped and murdered, in the village of Maung Taw on 29 May. The inter-communal clashes subsequently spread throughout the state and prompted the government to send troops that still have not managed to restore order.
The lack of reliable information about the violence, the poor and often biased media coverage and the reporting restrictions imposed by the government constitute new threats to freedom of information in Burma and pose a major challenge to the Burmese media.The government has appointed a commission of enquiry into the clashes, which have resulted in many deaths and a great deal of destruction.
Meanwhile, with the help of French journalist Sophie Ansel, Reporters Without Borders is publishing an interview with Habib Habiburahman, a Rohingya cyber-dissident who is a refugee in Australia. Habiburahman has stayed in direct contact with the Rohingya community in Burma and, since June, has been providing information about their situation and the attacks on certain villages.
RSF: What is your evaluation of the media presence in Arakan?
Habib Habiburahman: Until recently, no Burmese or foreign journalist had been able to do any thorough reporting on the situation in Arakan. From the Burmese viewpoint, our ethnicity has always been a taboo that was encouraged by the military government. The military sidelined us from the Burmese ethnic landscape and kept us penned up in villages from which we did not have the right to leave for decades.
For the most part, the Burmese media have refrained from doing any analytic or investigative reporting on what is happening in Arakan, either from fear amid a climate of extreme violence, or out of ignorance of our ethnic group, which has always been kept apart from the others, or because of a taboo in a country largely opposed to the idea of the existence of the Rohingyas, or for strictly partisan reasons.
The Burmese media would rather cover the ethnic conflicts in the states of Shan or Kachin than in Arakan. Also, the poverty, illiteracy, segregation and discrimination in which Rohingyas grow up prevents any possibility of a Rohingya working for a Burmese news organization and thereby helping to address the lack of coverage.
Many pressure groups discourage investigative reporting in Arakan. Government directives circulate. The Rohingyas live in fear, they are under threat and are not free to talk openly.than in Arakan. Also, the poverty, illiteracy, segregation and discrimination in which Rohingyas grow up prevents any possibility of a Rohingya working for a Burmese news organization and thereby helping to address the lack of coverage.
Many pressure groups discourage investigative reporting in Arakan. Government directives circulate. The Rohingyas live in fear, they are under threat and are not free to talk openly.
RSF: Can journalists interview Rakhines and Rohingyas with complete independence?
Habib: Most of the state is closed to foreigners and those who go there to cover the situation expose themselves to danger. They can easily meet Rakhines but access to Rohingyas is controlled and disapprovedof. Some have tried and a few videos and interviews with Rohingyas have emerged from Arakan. The few interviews come mainly from Sittwe, which is one of the places you have to go through to get to the touristic site of Mrauk U and which is therefore one of the cracks in the wall through which information can filter out. Other areas are completely cut off.Journalists are closely watched in Arakan and must take the utmost care, both for their own safety and the safety of their sources. The Rohingyas who dare to speak are risking the worst once the journalists or international observers have left.
The others censor themselves or are afraid to identify themselves as Rohingyas. This is not the case with Rakhines, who journalists can interview without any problem. What’s really worrying is the widespread, controlled disinformation about the situation in Arakan. The figures reported by the local and international media are those provided by a regime that has always oppressed us.
I am dismayed by the way the media blindly give credence to a regime, which in our state continues to be the dictatorship it has always been.
If there is a democratic process, it is in the seven Burmese regions but not in the seven states where the ethnic minorities live. It is absurd that international observers report figures without giving credence
to the figures reported by those Rohingyas who are following developments on a daily basis and who are compiling the most detailed reports possible. If independent journalists cannot go to the villages, to the victims, without being watched on or threatened, isn’t that a sufficient alarm signal that they are trying to hide something?
This is why we are relaying information on behalf of the Rohingyas. The figures we have reported are those to which we have had access. They are indeed disturbing but they reflect only the regions in Arakan that we have been able to contact.
Many villages have disappeared without our being able to obtain any information about them. The inhabitants of each torched village should be tracked down. Investigators should speak to all those who are still alive and who remember this tragedy, who remember those they have lost and are still losing.
RSF: What is the biggest problem as regards getting verified information?
Habib: The biggest problem is that even if photos or videos have been shot by someone with access to a camera, how can they get the information out ? The computers in the Muslim areas have been confiscated, phones bought in Arakan have been blocked and a Muslim with a mobile phone is immediately arrested.