Burmese government suspends newspaper

New York, January 23, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that the Burmese government has suspended the weekly Myanmar Times for one week as a result of its publication of unauthorized news, according to international news reports.

Burma’s Press Scrutiny Board ordered the temporary closure because of the newspaper’s January 11 Burmese-language edition, which included an article about the government’s decision to raise satellite fees from 6,000 kyat (US$4.80) to 1 million kyat (US$800), The Associated Press reported. Many Burmese citizens have privately installed satellite dishes in recent years to receive foreign news broadcasts instead of the heavily censored, government-controlled fare.  

The newspaper apparently did not receive prior government permission to publish the news item, which was first reported by Agence France-Presse. All news publications in Burma publish as weekly editions because of a time-consuming pre-censorship process which systematically ensures that nearly no news critical of the government is published.  

“That the government prohibits the media from reporting on its own pronouncements confirms the absurdity of Burma’s censorship regulations,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director.

Myanmar Times Editor-in-Chief Ross Dunkley told CPJ last year that on average 20 percent of the articles his paper submits to the censorship board every week are rejected and that he must maintain a stock of soft news stories to fill the gaps created on the page.     

Myanmar Times began publishing in 2000 as a 51/49 percent joint venture between the Burmese government and the Australian-owned Myanmar Consolidated Media. The paper’s Burmese-language edition is currently the country’s largest circulation newspaper.

CPJ ranked Burma as one of the most heavily censored countries in the world in its 2006 censorship survey. Government authorities harassed and censored journalists, and in one tragic case, killed Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, who was reporting on anti-government street protests that swept the country in August and September last year.