CPJ releases special report on Burmese journalism under military rule

New York, February 14, 2002—Facing strict government regulations, capricious censors, and corrupt bureaucrats, journalists in Burma persevere against odds unheard of in almost any other country, according to a CPJ special report, “Under Pressure: How Burmese journalism survives in one of the world’s most repressive regimes.”

The report was released as United Nations envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro visited Burma to investigate the country’s deplorable human rights record. One journalist, Myo Myint Nyein, was among a small group of political prisoners released on February 13 to coincide with Pinheiro’s visit, but press conditions in Burma remain abysmal.

“Journalists took enormous risks just to meet with me,” said the author of the report, A. Lin Neumann, CPJ’s Asia consultant. “I went to Rangoon expecting to find few reporters and editors eager to practice their craft at all. Instead, I found journalists dedicated to uncovering information and ideas. The tragedy is that so little of what they know finds it way into print.”

While 12 journalists were imprisoned for their work at the end of 2001, according to the report, every journalist in Burma labors under a harsh regime of censorship, licensing, and threats. The restrictions imposed by the ruling military junta make reporting on even the most mundane topics a risky business. Magazines can easily be closed and reporters imprisoned or driven into exile—frequent occurrences since military dictatorship was imposed in Burma in 1962.

“The censorship board has told us we must not write about AIDS, corruption, education, or the situation of students,” said an editor of a monthly magazine cited in the report. “We also cannot write about any bad news and we must be careful about everything political. That does not leave very much for us to publish.”

In addition to direct censorship, the government allows no public Internet access, controls all news, and owns the electronic media. Burma’s journalists are reduced to working the margins, trying to put meaning between the lines of what they write, and waiting for better days.

“This report shows that journalists try to do their jobs even under the most severe repression,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “It really is a remarkable story that demonstrates the strength of people’s desire for information and free expression.”