“The directive is a paragon of news control inasmuch as editors are threatened with punishments ranging up to imprisonment if they do not follow the rules for prior censorship,” the two organisations said. “It confirms that Burma continues to be a paradise for censors. And the military stop at nothing to ensure that no embarrassing news items slips through the net.”
The two organisations added: “This unpublished document highlights the scale of the censorship and threats with which the privately-owned media are confronted while trying to inform the public.”
The first point in the directive is a reminder of the principle of prior censorship: “Publication of any photo, drawing, painting, article, novel or poem that has not been submitted will be punished.” The censorship office then lists nine other restrictions that editors must observe. Certain reports cannot be printed on the front page. Changes made after verification by the authorities are forbidden. Photos and drawings must be of the authorised size. Reports that have been rejected by the censors may not be resubmitted.
The second part of the directive, which was sent to the Burmese media in September, lists the various sanctions for failing to adhere to the rules. They are clearly designed to intimidate editors:
1. Publications will be confiscated
2. Publication rights will be suspended
3. The printing press used in production of the publication will be confiscated
4. Publication rights will be permanently suspended
5. The 1962 press laws, which provide for heavy prison sentences, will be applied.
Burma currently has more than 100 privately-owned publications, all of which are subject to prior censorship by Maj. Tint Swe’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Board. As well as the traditionally-banned subjects such as democracy, the plight of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi or the economic and social crisis, many national and international events are also subject to a news blackout.