Burma’s notorious censorship board, called the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, has allowed a private Rangoon journal to publish translated versions of articles that have appeared in the international media.
The Voice Weekly published translated versions of op-ed articles on Burmese politics from The Washington Post and The New York Times, an unusual event in Burma.
Burmese readers inside Burma were surprised when they saw the articles from two of America’s leading newspapers, several readers told The Irrawaddy.
“I was surprised because I know our country has serious censorships problem,” said a high school teacher in Rangoon who regularly buys and reads weekly journals.
One of the op-ed articles that appeared in The Voice Weekly, originally published in The Washington Post, was written by a Burmese historian, Thant Myint-U. The article “Let’s Talk to Burma. China Sure Is.” called for more engagement with the military regime in Burma. The translated version appeared in The Voice’s Aug. 31 edition.
In the Sept. 7 edition, controversial US Sen Jim Webb’s commentary, “We Can’t Afford to Ignore Myanmar,” originally published in The New York Times on August 25, was translated and published in The Voice Weekly.
Editors in Rangoon said that Burma’s censorship board decided to publish these articles because they favored the lifting of economic sanctions. Other Rangoon-based journals did not publish the articles.
The Voice Weekly is edited by Nay Win Maung, who also publishes Living Color magazine. Living Color began publishing under the blessing of the former intelligence spy chief Gen Khin Nyunt. Dr Ye Naing Win, the son of Gen Khin Nyunt, is a close associate of Nay Win Maung.
The Washington Post once described Nay Win Maung as “a son of a military officer who was brought up among Burma's military elites, giving him good connections to military insiders.”
The Voice Weekly regularly publishes articles praising the coming election in 2010 and the regime’s “road map” to democracy. It is not known if the publication has been ordered to publish such articles or acts on its own editorial policy.
However, some editors and journalists have said that there is a little more freedom in the publication of articles now.
Recently, journalists in Rangoon spotted the name of the late poet Tin Moe mentioned in a Rangoon publication. The poet laureate left for exile and died a few years ago in the US. A strong supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi and the democracy movement, he wrote hundreds of poems critical of the regime and since then, his name has not been allowed to appear in local media.
“U Tin Moe’s name was allowed to be published recently. I think the censorship board permitted his name in media…because he had passed away,” said a writer in Rangoon who asked for anonymity.
Some journalists said that after Maj Tint Swe took over the censorship board, the local media have a little more breathing space than before. Tint Swe himself writes articles and poems. One of his pen-names is Ye Yint Tint Swe.
The censorship board is now under the Ministry of Information. In the past, Ministry of Home Affairs and the military intelligence service controlled the board and monitored publications.
In spite of strict draconian rules and censorship regulations, Burma has more than 200 weekly and monthly publications. Some selected journals close to key officials are profitable. Many others struggle financially and are under heavy surveillance.
According to the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders, Burma’s freedom of press is at the very bottom in the world, ranking 170 out of 172 countries.
A recent example of muzzling the press freedom was that of a Rangoon-based private journal called the Phoenix that was banned in August after it repeatedly ran articles that were ordered to be removed by the censorship board.
A woman editor in Rangoon, when asked about press freedom and the regime’s favoritism of some publications, said: “There is no change in the freedom of the Burmese media. On all translated articles and reports that we want to publish, the censorship board has the final say and it will remove them if they don’t like them. But if these stories and op-ed pieces are in line with regime policy, they will allow them to be published.” Wai Moe (The Irrawaddy)