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SPOOF AD SPARKS NEW CENSORSHIP RULES

An ad placed in English-language "Myanmar Times" newspaper that carried a hidden message calling the country's military ruler a "killer" has prompted a slew of new rules for media outlets, report Mizzima News and local news reports.

Placed by the Danish-based satirical art group Surrend on 23 July, the ad looked like an innocent call for Scandinavian tourists to visit Burma. But the credit at the bottom of the ad reads: "The Board of Islandic Travel Agencies Ewhsnahtrellik and the Danish Industry Besoeg Danmark." "Ewhsnahtrellik" read backwards is "Killer Than Shwe," referring the head of the military junta, General Than Shwe. The spoof ad also contains a poem whose first letters of each word spell "freedom."

Responding to the ad, Burma's censorship bureau issued 28 rules to the news media. Only ads in Burmese and English are allowed. Managing editors will now be held responsible for the authenticity and identity of agencies that want to place ads. Advertisements that "tarnish the dignity and honour of an individual, harm national unity or cause misunderstanding among nationalities" are banned. According to Mizzima News, those who flout the rules would be stripped of their press licences.

After the hidden message was discovered, special police interrogated at least 10 staff members of the part government-owned "Myanmar Times", Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) says.

The media organisation Democratic Voice of Burma says that shops in Rangoon had been forced to take the issue of the newspaper off the shelves while others had become too scared to stock it. Two staff from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division have reportedly been fired over the incident.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Surrend has placed similar ads with hidden messages before, including in the government-controlled "Tehran Times" last December that spelled out "swine" below a photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. To place the ad in Burma, Surrend presented themselves as an advertising company.

Surrend says they wanted to show that even the worst regimes are not impenetrable, "that with art you can find holes, fly under the censorship's radar and hit the despots."

Visit these links:
- Mizzima News: http://tinyurl.com/2okpq5
- Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières): http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23133&Valider=OK
- Surrend: http://www.surrend.org
- AP: http://tinyurl.com/2jwjm8
- Democratic Voice of Burma: http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=279
(7 August 2007)

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