Burmese authorities move to restrict news coverage of protests

New York, August 29, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the Burmese government’s restriction of news coverage of recent nationwide protests over an August 15 government decision to end fuel price subsidies.

According to the Burma Media Association (BMA), plainclothes police and pro-government groups brandishing crude weapons have threatened, harassed, and physically assaulted a number of local journalists who have attempted to cover and photograph the protests and the government’s retaliatory crackdown. Police are believed to have arrested more than 150 protesters, including prominent members of the dissident 88 Student Generation group.

The military command meanwhile issued a ban against photographing the protests and security forces have been deployed to enforce it. An unidentified local Reuters journalist had his cameras seized by police on August 23 after he attempted to take pictures of junta-backed militias detaining a group of protesters, according to media reports.

“Not content with starving its people of information by restricting news distribution, the Burmese junta is now using intimidation and threats to prevent news gathering,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Reporters have a right to cover the fuel protests in Burma without being set upon by plainclothes police and pro-government thugs. We call upon the Rangoon government to ensure that all journalists can work without harassment and censorship.”  

Meanwhile, state censors imposed a 10-day blackout of all news coverage of the protests, apart from the occasional propaganda piece in the pro-government New Light of Myanmar (Burma). All newspapers and magazines are censored by government authorities before publication, while all broadcast media outlets are tightly controlled and owned by the military government.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance, a regional press freedom advocacy group, reported recent rolling blackouts for both cell phones and the Internet. Burma already maintains some of the world’s most comprehensive restrictions of the Internet, intended as a means of cutting off the flow of information to dissident publications outside the country. CPJ’s e-mails in recent days to journalists inside Burma all went unanswered.   

Last year, CPJ named Burma as the second-most censored country in the world.