Thursday, 4 September 2008

Burmese Media Silent on Thai Turmoil

A Thai demonstrator waves a flag as she and others occupy the Government House.
Anti-government protests in Thailand have captured headlines around the world,
but in neighboring Burma, censors have blocked coverage of the unrest. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

As the international media continues to follow the tense situation in Thailand closely, the censors in neighboring Burma have imposed a blackout on coverage of massive anti-government protest in Bangkok, according to journalists in Rangoon.

An editor from a Rangoon-based journal told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the authorities were not allowing reports of the current unrest in Thailand to be published or broadcast by the country’s tightly controlled media.

“We can’t report it in our magazine,” said the editor. “They have censored reports about the protests in both the broadcast and print media.”

Another journalist in Rangoon confirmed that the protests, which are directed against the government of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, have received no media attention inside Burma.

“I haven’t seen any news about the turmoil in Thailand so far,” the journalist said.

The blackout on news about the unrest in Thailand extends to the international news network CNN, which is available through Family Entertainment, a 19-channel satellite television service created by Burma’s Ministry of Information and the privately owned Forever Group in 2005.

“We can only see the headlines about the protest,” said one journalist. “None of [CNN’s] in-depth coverage of the protests is shown.”

According to the journalist, the only source of information on the situation in Thailand is the Norway-based Burmese news organization, the Democratic Voice of Burma, which some people can watch secretly using satellite dishes.

The anti-government protests in Bangkok are led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which occupied the prime minister’s office compound on August 26 and vowed not to budge until Samak steps down.

On Tuesday, Samak declared a state of emergency in Bangkok after one protester died in a clash between anti-government and pro-government groups that broke out on Tuesday morning.

It was not clear why the Burmese authorities had blocked coverage of the unrest in neighboring Thailand, although it is not unusual for Burma’s censors to screen out sensitive information or images that could incite domestic unrest.

In September 2007, the censors shut down the news networks on the Family Entertainment satellite service to prevent access to international coverage of the ruling regime’s brutal crackdown on monk-led demonstrations. Internet access was also temporarily suspended at the height of the conflict.

Thakin Chan Htun, a veteran politician and former ambassador to China, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the Burmese regime’s decision to prevent the media from reporting on the current situation in Thailand showed that its claims to be moving towards democratic reforms were meaningless.

“If they really want to form a democratic country, they should allow local journals and magazines to independently report news that the people should know,” he said.

Aye Thar Aung, the Rangoon-based secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy, said that the authorities were intent on controlling not only the media, but also the will of people.

“In Thailand, the King, the military and the government all respect the basic principles of democracy,” said Aye Thar Aung. “They are serious about the will of the people. But in Burma, we can’t imagine this. It is like a dream.”

Despite the lack of news coverage of the current unrest in Thailand, many Burmese have taken a strong interest in the situation there, partly because Samak, the target of the Thai protests, has in the past made a number of controversial comments about Burma’s political impasse.

Samak recently described Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a “political tool” of the West, and suggested that international efforts to engage the Burmese junta would be more productive if Suu Kyi were kept off the agenda.

Samak made the remark during a meeting with Ibrahim Gambari, the United Nations’ special envoy to Burma, when the two met in Bangkok soon after the Nigerian diplomat ended his latest trip to Burma.

Burmese opposition leaders reacted angrily to the Thai premier’s comments.

And now that Samak’s political future is in question, many Burmese say they hope to see him out of power soon.

“They are happy that protesters are demanding Samak’s resignation. They said it is good that he is facing the current unrest,” said one Rangoon resident, describing the sentiment expressed by many Burmese who are following the situation in Thailand.

No comments: