Current developments and media warfare in Burma

by Bo Bo Kyaw Nyein, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 30, 2007 (Originally published on Mizzima, Sept 24, 2007)

Yangon, Myanmar -- I have to confess that I was one of the vocal critics who complained about wasting tax payer's money on training the same crowd over and over again in the name of capacity building over the last 18 years or so. I must also confess that media training is one bright spot where tremendous gains had been made in the last few decades or so.

I am delighted to see many young writers and journalists especially from several ethic back grounds coming to shine in the time of need when political developments were hotting up inside Burma and timely reporting is much needed. I am truly pleased to see opinion writers or journalists with names popping up on Irrawady, Mizzima, Khit Pyaing, Hit Taing just to name a few establish media outlets specializing in Burmese affairs.

I think small organization such as Internews deserve credit for opening J school and training young journalists and grooming potential young talents. Being able to recruit experienced hands of Burmese origin from AFP and delegating assignments for training young journalist brings credibility and positive results. We must not forget that many talented activists such as Aung Zaw of Irrawady and Soe Myint of Mizzima were trained and groomed by Bertil Litner and paved the way for Burmese media and thus we must also thank the veteran Swedish journalist for his remarkable contribution.

Not only on the print journalism side much development had been accomplished, there are some developments on radio journalism also. During the history making events of 8-8-88, there were only two radio broadcasting programs (VOA&BBC) that were popular inside Burma that could deliver news on the ground to the news-starving listeners inside Burma. Now there is DVB (Democratic Voice of Burma) in Norway and RFA (Radio Free Asia) in Washington D.C., in addition to the mainstay radio stations offering programs in Burmese language. We all should not forget that a young journalist by the name of Christopher Guiness from BBC played a critical role during the 8888 uprising where his creative and accurate reporting brought up the moral and fighting spirits of the people and the fighters who were sacrificing their lives for Democracy.

During the long struggle of 18 years of the current military junta, radio programs offering in Burmese language had passed through many evolutionary processes and stages. BBC is still the leading the race and DVB has supplement BBC and is now known for its first breaking news. VOA for the past 16 years had been lethargic with some heads of the Burmese program being suspected for sympathizing with the Burmese junta or being accused of having a friendly relationship with the generals. Most of the reporters were just filling in with translated news rather than searching and reporting the latest breaking news from inside, interviewing people on the ground and giving analysis and opinions by credible and knowledgeable opinion writers. Much has changed since the young dynamic and energetic chief had taken over the reigns of VOA program. Talented young journalists with dynamic personalities had been recruited and even an experienced journalist who can be considered as a celebrity with a strong audience such as U Kyaw Zan Tha had joined the team and had strengthened the talent pool. VOA is now in a strong position among Burmese radio programs. At present RFA is passing thru the transition period after the long reign of the program chief who was a bureaucrat trained during General Ne Win's BSPP rule and who has minimal experience in journalism.

Why is Burmese media, both print and radio programs are essential, critical and decisive during this important moment where many brave patriots are standing up against one of the repressive and cruel regimes in human history? Two strong words can reveal the answer: Dictatorship and Censorship. Every Dictatorship fears the free press and all of them imposed censorship.

The ruling military junta went further ahead. Major General Kyaw San, the Burmese Baghad Bob, the minister of Information Ministry announced this year that they will have to fight the media with media and SPDC just opened a three years program in journalism. SPDC has recruited some intellects and even added veteran politicians to write in favor of government policies and programs in the government favored magazines. In addition to stop the flow of breaking news to the outside world SPDC has recently cut off telephone lines to prominent politicians, 8888 generation leaders, activists and NLD spoke people.

The latest news reveales that the military authorities are searching hotel rooms for foreign journalists. The most feared and effective weapons are the reporting of civilian journalists spreading news, still photos and videos of military shootings and killings innocent unarmed civilians and Buddhist monks. And of course, the Blogs. In this day and age of Internet, unlike the 88 Uprising, news can be spread across the globe in an instant. The military junta goons are threatening the public that severe punishment will be delivered to anyone caught giving information to outside world. They have even dared to kill a Japanese photo journalist just to send a strong message.

All these incidents pointed to the fact that media is most effective and most feared by the military regime. To contain people demonstrations and crushed them if necessary in the dark is the aim of this ruthless Nazi regime. And one of the best tools is to fight back with media.

For this, I would like to suggest to all western governments to increase their help and aid to Burmese media outlets. I would also like to request U.S. Senators and Congressmen and Administration officials to increase the budget for the media such as VOA ad RFA and to increase aid to Burmese media outlets. This struggle can be short lived and it may take some months before we can finally overthrow the military junta. This is the best chance for the country to regain Democracy and I hope the western powers promoting Democracy will help win the Burmese saffron revolution.