Floating village. Photo: Andrea Schaffer (Flickr CC).
Editor Philip Lee introduces the issue by surveying the media landscape in Burma (also known as Myanmar), quoting democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi as saying that reform is “stalled,” 2 ½ years after the government announced that it would stop censoring media before publication.
Last March, Burma’s Parliament formally approved two laws that lawmakers said would extend press freedom – but left media licensing in the hands of the Ministry of Information.
ARTICLE 19, the human rights organization dedicated to promoting freedom of expression and information, questions whether a law is needed at all, since its primary impact is to create a series of bureaucratic formalities such as registering with the ministry and sending it information on the import and export of publications.
In 2011, Burma’s Internet policies were considered among the most restrictive in the world. However, in 2012, “the government unblocked most previously banned content, including the websites of outlets that frequently criticized the regime, and stopped requiring journalists to submit content to government censors before publication,” Lee notes.
“Burma’s transition to greater democracy is proving a test case for communication rights in practice. If the government is serious about unifying and reconciling its different peoples and allowing them a voice in policy-making, it will have to grant them open access to media platforms that enable them to express their opinions and to raise issues of public concern,” Lee concludes.
Looking at Cambodia, Theara Khoun writes that the influence of traditional media, once instrumental in mobilizing support for the ruling party, is weakening and social media is stepping in to fill the vacuum. “The rise of social media as an alternative to, if not an outright replacement for, pro-government media means that information … can no longer be monopolized or concealed,” Khoun notes.
In Thailand, Walakkamol Changkamol writes that the increase of political conflict from late 2013 to 2014 “contributed to the downfall of freedom of expression and freedom of information both on the public and personal levels.” Thailand now has a coup d’état government that is trying to infuse people with propaganda in the name of so-called “morals” or “Thai tradition,” and this trend is setting communications in Thailand back 50 years, says Changkamol.
The full articles are available with a subscription to Media Development. Information on subscribing may be found here.