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State newspaper's proposed ban on satellite dishes seen as sign of increased suppression of media freedom

(Mizzima/IFEX) - In what seems to be a "warning", Burma's state-run newspaper carried an article on 24 April 2009 saying that satellite channels, which enable people to watch international news and entertainment, are being manipulated by big nations and should be banned in Burma.

The writer, who identified himself as Ko Gyi, wrote in the "New Light of Myanmar" that powerful nations are exploiting the satellite channels to instigate unrest and threaten the culture of the people by broadcasting entertainment, which has a hidden agenda. The writer argued that the government should prohibit the sales of satellite dishes and receivers, which are widely used in Burma.

A similar article, which appeared in the same daily newspaper in February, said, "Restrict the watching of uncensored satellite TV programmes telecast by the outside world."

"We were surprised to see this article today. This is a warning to our satellite dish shops. But they have not done anything so far. We have to wait and see for another 10-15 days," Nyi Nyi Naing, a salesman at the imported TATA Sky satellite dish shop in Rangoon, told Mizzima.

In an earlier article on 17 February, the author suggested that the government impose restrictions on the viewing of uncensored TV programmes telecast by the outside world through satellite dish and receivers.

The 24 April article focused on the sales of satellite dishes, and is seen as a warning to satellite dish companies and shops. The article's author said, "Some people do not notice that attachment to satellite receivers is harmful to the morality of the viewers."

The article further noted that in many countries, governments enforce restrictions to prohibit people from using satellite receivers directly. In some countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Pakistan and Iran, "the public are not allowed to use satellite receivers legally", the author said.

In Indonesia, satellite dishes and receivers are not widely used but people there are able to freely watch news programmes telecast by foreign news channels. John Moe, a Burmese citizen living in Jakarta, said, "We pay a monthly fee of Indonesia Rupiah 150,000 and can watch foreign news channels such as BBC, CNN."

While it is not an official government statement, the "New Light of Myanmar" article is seen by the Burmese media as a sign of further tightening of regulations and increased suppression of media freedom in Burma.

In Burma, in an environment of no freedom of expression and no free media, the Burmese people can freely watch foreign news channels through these satellite dishes and receivers. But since it is not easy to pay the official monthly license fees, people are forced to install satellite receivers illegally, a local from Rangoon said.

"Yes, what the government said is right. Most of the people installed these satellite receivers and dishes without a license. But as for us, it's difficult to pay monthly fees of Kyat 15,000," he said. Warning the sales centers of satellite receivers to restrict installing such devices is in fact intended to levy taxes from the wide use of these. But these sale centers said that it cannot stop their sales volume.

"Shops have long been selling satellite dishes. They cannot stop the illegal sales of these devices. The VOA Burmese Service news channel can be tuned into in Burma by using TATA Sky," an official from Satellite Receivers Import Company said.

In the wake of the monk-led protests in September 2007, Burmese media in exile were able to broadcast and telecast news, pictures and videos of the junta's brutal crackdown. In its drive to block the free flow of news and information to the outside world, the junta began arresting bloggers and domestic reporters and handing down long prison sentences.

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