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More publications suspended following Aung San Suu Kyi's release

(RSF/IFEX) - 24 November 2010 - At least 10 Burmese publications have been sanctioned for paying too much attention to the release of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the opposition National League for Democracy, on 13 November.

They have been suspended for one to three weeks on the orders of the military authorities in the capital Naypyidaw after the military-supervised Press Scrutiny Board gave them permission to print Suu Kyi's photo and a short article about her release. Any further reporting about Suu Kyi is now banned until further notice.

At the same time, the foreign media have been fairly free to cover her release although at least seven foreign journalists were deported while trying to cover the national elections that the military junta held on 7 November.

"The past few weeks have shown that the privately-owned Burmese media are capable of covering major events such as the elections and Suu Kyi's release professionally and creatively," Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said. "It is regrettable that the orders coming from Naypyidaw are for more censorship. We urge the authorities to rescind the suspensions and drop the system of prior censorship."

The publications that are known to have been sanctioned include Seven Days Journal and Venus Journal, which have been suspended for three weeks, and Open News Journal, Messenger, Myanmar Newsweek, Voice Journal, People Age and Snap Shot, which have been suspended for a week. The military officer in charge of censorship summoned their editors and notified them of the suspensions. Other publications were given warnings without being suspended.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association hail the creative use of cryptic methods by certain Burmese journalists to defy the censors and celebrate Suu Kyi's release. The sports weekly First Eleven Journal, for example, published the message "SU FREE UNITE & ADVANCE TO GRAB HOPE" hidden in a front-page headline about British Premier League football results. It has been suspended for two weeks. Hot News Journal, a publication owned by Gen. Khin Maung Than's daughter, has also been suspended for two weeks.

An editor told the two organizations: "The authorities force us to just publish photos of [Suu Kyi] on her own and to describe her party, the NLD, as a 'banned party' so we have to find veiled methods to cover what is going on. We thought that the Press Scrutiny Board would loosen its control after the elections but it did not happen."

In November 2008, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association revealed the existence of a 10-point directive in which the Press Scrutiny Board spells out the censorship rules for editors.

After providing the junta's parliamentary elections with extensive coverage, it is unfair and unacceptable that the Burmese media are sanctioned for covering Suu Kyi's release. The military are using double standards. Asked about the reporting ban, Suu Kyi said it showed that things had not really changed since the elections.

At least seven foreign journalists have been deported after being identified by the security services. Dozens of foreign reporters got into Burma on tourist visas during the elections and Suu Kyi's release. "The police were on the watch during the elections and anyone identified as a journalist was expelled," said a European journalist who managed to interview Suu Kyi in Rangoon. "But in the days following Suu Kyi's release, it was obvious they did not have clear orders."

Among the latest deportees were two journalists working on a documentary for Australia's ABC television, who were escorted to the border on 11 November. But the police failed to arrest John Simpson of the BBC, who was able to interview Suu Kyi.

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