The New Light of Myanmar newspaper and other state-run publications in Burma have stopped a long-running propaganda campaign against the Democratic Voice of Burma and other foreign or exiled media, which they daily described as “killer broadcasts designed to cause troubles”.
The slogans appeared on the back page of the New Light of Myanmar, which acts as a government mouthpiece, alongside other similarly authoritarian propaganda warnings. The campaign against DVB began after its work during the September 2007 monk-led uprising, when it fed alarming footage of the bloody crackdown to international broadcasters.
The paper stated that DVB, along with US-based Radio Free Asia (RFA), was “generating public outrage”. The BBC and Voice of America (VOA) were also accused of “sowing hatred among the people”.
The removal of the slogans comes shortly after the government’s first-ever press conference week, and a somewhat successful attempt to soften its draconian image.
Despite the move, 17 of DVB’s video journalists remain behind bars, along with nearly 2,100 political prisoners. The current figure is well above the average for political prisoners in Burma since a military dictatorship took power in 1962.
Geraldine May, who runs the Free Burma VJ campaign, said that “despite the efforts of the so-called new government to improve its image, we remain deeply concerned about the wellbeing of the 17 DVB video journalists who remain behind bars in terrible conditions, despite having committed no crime”.
Among them is 21-year-old Sithu Zeya, who was given an eight-year sentence for filming the aftermath of the Rangoon grenade attacks last year. He has allegedly been tortured, and appeared in court recently to face further charges.
“It is unacceptable and entirely against the norms of justice and democracy that a journalist should be in jail for doing his or her job,” May said, adding that “a democracy does not jail its journalists.”
As well as initiating press conferences, the government recently formed the Spokespersons and Information Team, led by Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, which is tasked with disseminating news and polishing the image of the government.
Some observers claim these efforts are an attempt to improve Burma’s image in order to gain more legitimacy, particularly as it seeks to end Western sanctions on the country and chair the regional ASEAN bloc in 2014.
By JOSEPH ALLCHIN