Myanmar’s state-run newspapers dropped back-page banners attacking Western media for the first time in four years today, the latest indication its new government could be softening its stance towards opposition voices. Three official newspapers dropped half-page slogans that were running daily, accusing the Voice of America (VOA) and the BBC of “sowing hatred among the people”, and other Western media of “generating public outrage”.
The slogans also told readers not to be swayed by “killer broadcasts designed to cause troubles”. They had been a fixture in state newspapers since a bloody army crackdown on monk-led protests in August 2007. The BBC, VOA and two other foreign news organisations provide local-language news bulletins on shortwave radio frequencies and satellite television that are primary news sources for many people in the former Burma.
Myanmar’s government has long struggled to control overseas’ news. Removing the slogans is seen as the latest gesture of openness since elections last year ended five decades of army rule and ushered in a civilian-led administration. Some private media, which routinely exercise self-censorship, have run stories recently quoting lawmakers critical of government policies and the country’s reclusive Information Ministry announced last week it had formed a “Spokespersons and Information Team” to assist journalists.
State newspapers have also been less critical of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the figurehead of Myanmar’s democracy movement who was freed last year when her period of house arrest expired.
However, Myanmar’s television media remains strictly controlled by the government, foreign journalists are still mostly barred from legally reporting in the country and most foreign media websites remain blocked.
Most expect Western sanctions to remain in place until an estimated 2,100 political prisoners are released.