Junta shakeup leads to closing of several publications

New York, October 22, 2004-The Committee to Protect Journalists is very concerned about the closing of a large group of Burmese publications after the ouster of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt this week. Military authorities banned or suspended more than a dozen publications associated with Military Intelligence Services (MIS), which was previously run by Gen. Nyunt, according to CPJ sources and reports in the exiled Burmese media.

The banned publications, sources said, include popular news-oriented magazines and newspapers such as First Eleven, a news magazine; 7 Days, a weekly newspaper; and Myanmar News Gazette, another weekly newspaper. Living Color, a private magazine whose license was issued by Nyunt’s son, was also shut down, and the weekly newspaper Myanmar Times was not distributed this week.

The official censorship body, the Press Scrutiny Board (PSB), is also being restructured, according to the Burma Media Alliance, a group of exiled Burmese journalists. The PSB is run by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and is monitored by Military Intelligence.

CPJ is investigating the reasons behind these developments, which appear to be connected with the downfall of the moderate Nyunt. All publications and organizations related to him and Military Intelligence are now apparently at risk of closure or restructuring.

Burma’s authoritarian military regime runs the country with an array of security services including Military Intelligence. Overseeing news publications and licensing has been a way for the MIS to control the flow of information, while trying to improve the junta’s image and, in some cases, make a profit.

Sources tell CPJ that Burma’s new prime minister, Lt. Gen. Soe Win, appears to be consolidating power by taking control of news and information media inside the country. The banned and suspended publications are potentially lucrative as well.

Nyunt, appointed prime minister in August 2003, made several moves toward democratization and openness while in office. He proposed the so-called “road map to democracy,” and took some steps toward freeing Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy party who has been under house arrest since May 2003. The official Burmese media announced Nyunt’s dismissal October 19.

“Burma, already one of the most restrictive countries in Asia for the press, is clearly moving in the wrong direction. Shutting down so many news publications is yet another distressing sign,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

CPJ will honor two imprisoned Burmese journalists for their courage and dedication to free expression with International Press Freedom Awards in November. Filmmakers Aung Pwint and Thaung Tun (also also known as Nyein Thit) were arrested in October 1999, charged with disseminating information overseas, and given eight-year prison sentences. Ten journalists in all are imprisoned in Burma for their work, according to CPJ research.