Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 30 (of 30)
Political Environment: 38 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 28 (of 30)
Total Score: 96 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.

  • The new constitution ostensibly provides for freedom of speech and the press, but the Burmese media environment remained among the most tightly restricted in the world during 2008.

  • Private periodicals are subject to prepublication censorship under the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, which requires that all content be approved by the authorities. As a result, coverage is limited to a small range of permissible topics, publications are sometimes required to carry government-produced articles, and most publications are forced to appear as weeklies or monthlies. Under censorship rules announced in 2005, media are ostensibly allowed to offer "constructive" criticism of government projects and report on natural disasters and poverty, provided the coverage does not affect the national interest.

  • Those who publicly express or disseminate views or images that are critical of the regime are subject to harsh punishments, including lengthy prison sentences, as well as assault and intimidation.

  • At the beginning of the year an estimated eight prominent journalists and writers remained in prison for expressing political views. Among the many journalists arrested in 2008 were Thet Zin and U Sein Win Maung, the editor and office manager of Myanmar Nation magazine, respectively, sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for violating the Printers and Publishers Act; and Saw Myint Than, a former correspondent of the magazine Flower News Journal, arrested and charged with violating the Electronics Law and criticizing government authorities. Saw Myint Than was released in October after nearly two months in detention.

  • Both local and foreign journalists' ability to cover the news is restricted. Small numbers of foreign reporters are allowed to enter Burma on special visas; they are generally subject to intense scrutiny while in the country and in past years have occasionally been deported.

  • The government owns all broadcast media and daily newspapers and exercises tight control over a growing number of privately owned weekly and monthly publications.

  • Authorities restrict the importation of foreign news periodicals.

  • Although some people have access to international shortwave radio or satellite television, those caught accessing foreign broadcasts can be arrested. Nevertheless, as the only source of uncensored information, foreign radio programs produced by the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and Democratic Voice of Burma are very popular.

  • The internet operates in a limited fashion in cities and is accessible to less than 1 percent of the population. Access is expensive, tightly regulated, and censored, with the government controlling all of the several dozen domestic internet service providers. At the end of the year, Nay Phone Latt – a blogger, internet cafe owner, and former opposition party member – was sentenced to over 20 years in prison on several charges, including causing public alarm, possessing illegal videos, and engaging in prohibited electronic transactions.

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