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Chief censor attempts to resign amid disagreements with information ministry, further media crackdown feared

(Mizzima/IFEX) - The Burmese junta's Minister of Information refused to accept the resignation of the regime's chief censor, said a government official who requested anonymity.

Major Tint Swe, the director of the Office of Press Scrutiny, which censors the contents of all print media in Burma, submitted his resignation letter to the ministry on 31 July 2008. However, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, the Information Minister, refused to accept Tint Swe's resignation.

Sources said one of the major reasons for the chief censor's resignation is the alleged refusal of most leading weeklies to follow the media guidelines issued by the Office of Press Scrutiny following the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis in May.

The official, who requested anonymity, said more than half a dozen journals, including the prominent weeklies "7 Day News", "News Watch" and "First Music", among others, were recently ordered to sign so-called "assertion letters" in which they pledge to comply with the Office of Press Scrutiny's instructions.

"A journal's staff is supposed to sign a petition letter if and when the publisher fails to observe the do's and don'ts prescribed by the censor board. However, several journals have been defying the board's instructions," said the official.

"When you write a report about government departments, it needs to be correct. If you exaggerate or have misconceptions while writing, there will be a problem," Major Tint Swe once told local journalists. "We only allow news that will not have a negative effect on the state or national welfare."

Most of the publishers of journals noted that the censor board's performance has been lackluster, as the growth of the local publishing industry has resulted in a volume of material that exceeds the board's capacity. There are about 170 publications in Burma, of which 120 are weeklies.

Interestingly, some local journalists claimed that Major Tint Swe, 44, is allegedly sympathetic to the local print media, despite the constraints his government agency regularly imposes on them.

Apparently the chief censor favours greater openness to reports on natural disasters, but the information ministry believes such reporting negatively affects Burma's image. The ministry is apparently unwilling to allow even the narrow margin of press freedom the censor board was allowing, and would prefer that weekly newspapers echo the government's position on events.

A Rangoon-based editor said members of the local media are worried that a more suppressive censor might replace Major Tint Swe. He said this could be a big blow to the local journals.

Tint Swe was formerly an editor for a government publication, "Sit Pyinnyar Journal" ("Military Affairs Journal") and was appointed to his present position in late 2004, when his predecessor Major Aye Tun, was forced to retire when the National Intelligence Bureau headed by former General Khin Nyunt became defunct.

Mizzima believes that regardless of whether or not the chief censor resigns, major changes in the level of censorship are unlikely. However, Mizzima is concerned that a further crackdown against pro-opposition media outlets and journalists may occur.

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