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While much ink has been spilled in the Western press about Russia’s worrisome attempts to reassert its influence over the former satellite republics of the USSR, relatively little attention has been paid to the extent to which the People’s Republic of China remains a malignant leavening force on the entirety of Southeast Asia. The “Republic” of Myanmar is one of the foremost exemplars of this Chinese influence, as the military junta which exercises an iron grip over the populace is both propped up by the PRC government and is insulated from Western pressure or sanctions by the same.
In an indication that the Burmese government is feeling some pressure to at least put on a show that democratic reforms are taking place, the government announced last weekend that it was relaxing its rigid censorship rules on the press. A closer look at Myanmar’s announced policy, however, indicates that the proposed reforms – like the alleged elections of a civilian government earlier this year — are almost entirely illusory (emphasis added):
Myanmar media reacted with caution on Saturday after the country announced a slight easing of repressive censorship rules for some publications, but kept its tight grip on news titles.
Sports journals, entertainment magazines, fairytales and the winning lottery numbers will not need to have prior approval from the information ministry before they are printed, publishers were told at a meeting on Wednesday.
However, officials said these titles would still be scrutinised before they go on sale.
What a huge leap towards democracy – newspapers in Myanmar can now publish the winning lottery numbers without checking with the government censor first. Of course, the real trap here is that even the superfluous and non-political sections of the paper will still be censored, they just won’t be censored before printing.
Under the current system, newspapers must submit all copy to the government’s information ministry before printing in order to prevent the newspapers from saying anything whatsoever critical of the government, which is prohibited by law. Under the new system, the newspapers can print without checking with the government first, but if the government inspects them after publication and finds the pieces unsatisfactory, the reporters in question can simply be jailed. Given that the Burmese government currently holds roughly three dozen members of the media in prison for writing pieces that displeased the Myanmar government, one can be sure that only reporters who are ready to serve a lengthy prison sentence will risk even the most mildly critical article about the ruling government.
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