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Authorities seize cameras to prevent circulation of cyclone images, heighten surveillance of media personnel

(Mizzima/IFEX) - Angered by film footage and photographs depicting the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis which have appeared in media outside of Burma, the junta is now undertaking to seize all still photography and video cameras being used by small-scale professionals, and even those that are privately owned by households. In particular, authorities have targeted small-scale, private documentary film makers and the proprietors of photography studios in cyclone-hit Kungyankone, in Rangoon Division. In their new campaign, the authorities are not arresting the users of this equipment, but simply seizing the equipment itself. At least ten businesses have been affected so far.

In addition, the junta has put media personnel, both local and foreign, on a watch list in cyclone-affected areas. Military Security Affairs (MSA) officers are being positioned in every cyclone-affected township, and local political leaders have been told to report on the activities of media personnel and any individuals with a camera.

The seizure of film and photography equipment follows reports in state-run newspapers about "anti-government elements and self centred people" allegedly making money from peddling fabricated news and from filming cyclone relief and reconstruction work.

"The authorities seized four digital video cameras, and at least six still cameras in Kungyankone. They are seizing cameras even from private homes," a source told Mizzima.

Though the authorities have said they are confiscating the equipment only temporarily, none has been returned to its owner.

The authorities also detained the famous actor and comedian Zarganar, who had been assisting cyclone victims with relief materials, on the evening of 4 May 2008. They also seized from his home documentary video footage and musical recordings on the cyclone, albums sung on the cyclone by children.

The documentary videos and photographs of the cyclone, which lashed some townships in Rangoon and Irrawaddy Divisions on 2 and 3 May, were very popular among local people and were selling briskly. The video footage captured scenes of bodies strewn about, uprooted trees, collapsed houses and lampposts and debris heaped on the streets.

Updates alerts on post-cyclone restrictions on foreign journalists and media: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94141

For further information on the junta's efforts to curb the free flow of information following the cyclone, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94397

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