Monday, June 8, 2009

Junta clampdown on exiled radio listeners

(DVB)–The Burmese junta has clamped down on the rising numbers of unlicensed radio owners in a move that media experts see as restriction on the freedom of media and access to pro-democracy broadcasts.

The ruling junta yesterday issued a warning in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper that those listening to radio without holding a license could be prosecuted under the Wireless Act.

The warning carried no information on why people would be prosecuted nor why numbers of listeners are increasing, but a Burmese journalist on the China-Burma border said the increase was linked to the political crisis.

People tend to buy radios when there is a stir in politics,” he said.

“[The 2007 protests] was like it is now. As soon as it was like that, people bought radios. During 2003 Depayin (massacre), people bought [radios]."

He added that sales of shortwave radios manufactured by China, which are used by exiled Burmese media groups to broadcast, were also on the rise.

Coverage of the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi by domestic Burmese media is heavily controlled.

Heavily censored private newspapers and journals are restricted from publishing any information that isn't covered in the state-run publications.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders last month criticised the trial reporting as one-sided.

“Even with limited access, the Burmese public is not being properly informed as the military’s prior censorship prevents any independent coverage.”

The chairman of the exiled Burma Media Association (BMA) said the move is an attempt to restrict the freedom of media and a means to arrest listeners of exiled media.

"The military government's…legal actions on radio listeners who do not pay license fees… is an effort to hamper the people of Burma who have been depending more and more on foreign radios lately,” said Maung Maung Myint.

“Let's say, if they want to take action on listeners of foreign radios, they want to create a scenario in which they could arrest them not for listening to the radio but for not licensing their radios."

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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