Media in Myanmar

Here in Myanmar people get a very limited view of the outside world. The only images and media which can flow in freely are of English soccer, a national obsession here that makes even the most hardened United fan look like a softy. The rest of the media is heavily controlled and regulated, to the point of intellectually isolating this place from the rest of the world.

There are 2 TV channels which are broadcast here are both government owned and run, and it is no surprise that they are as boring as the ABC would be if it was Gardening Australia 24/7. Looking at the listings for the two channels in the New Light of Myanmar (more on that later), it is rather unappetising viewing. On the two occassions I have had a chance to watch Myanmar TV, it has almost lived up to those low expectations. The first show I saw featured a middle aged woman singing traditional songs, with a single, fixed camera angle and no set to speak of. Just singing. Lustily. For an hour.

The next show I saw was a little more exciting, and featured Myanmar's appearance in the Tiger Cup Asian soccer tournament taking place at the moment in Malaysia and Singapore. On Tuesday, the might Myanmar took on the Phillipines, and Myanmar TV was there to cover the excitement. A single, monotonal male commentator brought us the action, and the broadcast seemed to have been shot with just two cameras. It reminded me a little of the cricket broadcasts from the 70s, that had so few cameras that alternating overs would be shot from over the batsman's shoulder and over the bowler's shoulder. But there was a packed crowd in the coffee shop to watch the action, and in the 90th minute Myanmar scored to pull off a deserving 1-0 victory.

On the streets of Myanmar there are plenty of newspapers, most of them in Burmese. All, however, are government owned and controlled, and seem to offer nothing more than a fictionalised account of the world. The Enlgish language publication is the charmingly titled New Light of Myanmar, a scarey piece of Orwellian propaganda that bears only a passing resemblence to reality. The NLM writes of which particular government officials and army generals have been visiting particular villages and townships, and shares in great detail the warm response they received from the patriotic Myanmari villagers. There is usually also a recording of the gift that the particular government official bestowed apon the village. "Minister Major Leiutentant-General so-and-so gave a box of pencils to the elementary school in Fuckknowswhere, to great applause." As for foreign news, the NLM publishes mostly wire service reports, often from Reuters or the Chinese newsagency Xinhua. Usually these stories have an anti-American bent, in line with the recent affiliation of the Myanmar leadership. Stories of positive encounters between Myanmar government officials and foriegn officials also get plenty of prominance, no doubt because of the legitimacy it offers to the status quo. The warm response that PM Soe Win received last week at the ASEAN conference in Laos was prominant news.

Recently there has been a newspaper with a more independent vibe, the Myanmar Times. Targetted mostly at expats and educated locals, the newspaper has a mix of local and international news, as well as ex-pat gossip and some sport and showbiz. Whilst the articles are never critical of the government, they are more factual in nature and are much less news-as-political-fellatio, unlike the NLM (who send pornography was banned in Myanmar). It is a little strange, though to read amongst the news and gossip an assertive looking box of text with the objectives of the nation:

(Will publish em when I can access them online. Use google and a bit of nous and your curiousity will be satisfied)

It seems that by law every publication in Myanmar must feature these major principles. Even a childrens cartoon, published in both English and Burmese, featuring messages of the wonders of personal hygiene and staying off drugs and sponsored by Unicef, features these same slogans. It is hard to know what your average 12 year old keen to practice their English makes of all this.

Finally, the internet. The email situation was explained in an earlier post, and the internet situation is quite oppressive as well. There is limited web-surfing which can be done, although you will often come across the screen of doom which reads something like this:


Access to the page:

... has been denied for the following reason:

Banned phrase found.

You are seeing this error because the page you attempted
to access contains, or is labelled as containing, material that
has been deemed inappropriate.

All this is more than simply inconvenient. It is deeply frustrating for those who must live with it. People here in Myanmar and hungry to learn about the outside world and to take their place as citizens of the planet. They desperately want to engage with the rest of the world on equal terms, and no doubt given the opportunity they would be fiesty participants. At the moment, however, they have no voice and no ability to take part in global dialogue. Surely it is only a matter of time before technology grows and becomes such an irrepressible force that to try to restict it would be folly. For now, though, it is working, and with remarkable success.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for sharing some infos on the situation of the media in Myanmar. I am a Journalism student from the University of the Philippines and we have been tackling the media issues in Myanmar lately. The Philippines may be the most dangerous place for journalists but with Myanmar, we are still blessed. I hope Myanmar would find its true light and make her way out of the staggering doom.

Please visit my blog as well.

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