Mediocre media for Burmese speaking peoples


A police state and the problem of a media ‘third force’

For Mizzima News

If you were a Burmese soldier who died in action against the Communist guerrillas in the 1960s, and were born again in Rangoon at the dawn of the Naypyitaw-cracy, you would find it hard to notice any change in the socio-political landscape of Burma, apart from the insidious influence of crony businesses.

Half a century has passed and a military regime still holds power, with loyal technocrats sandwiched into the system. The regime resembles the late 1950s caretaker government of the Burmese Army and its direct intervention in politics to stave off any Leftist influence on U Nu’s swaying cabinet.

Although there were only two military representatives in caretaker government back then, the whole secretariat was run by middle-aged enthusiastic colonels who gained confidence in controlling the country in their socialist zeal after a year and a half internship. The civilian ministers’ only job was to sign legislation. This state structure with a civilian façade was refurbished in the mid-1970s to resemble the East German socialist state under the same generals’ rule even though the caretaker government’s doctrine was to enhance army-driven market capitalism and Communist suppression.

Today, after the 2010 elections, this form of caretaker government capitalism has emerged again and political repression seems to be as harsh as under the Cold War army’s rules. Although the new military heads of state are warning the civilian political parties not to weaken the new-born democracy or ruin the state for political purposes, the newly formed ruling party, owned by the army, is an imitation of the bygone U Nu’s Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, pseudo-democratic and repressive to opponents.

There is a loose party leadership based on client-patron favouritism, power-plays between party bosses, including the generals, promotion of a crony business class, civilian thugs for political oppression, a playing off of the super powers for political survival, and also the façade of a freer press.

Insurgencies remain an important obstacle on Burma’s path to development and prosperity, as during the Maoist threat of the 1950s. Although the military regimes used to claim their role as captains of the state against the storm, their feudalist rule can also be viewed as a serious hindrance to unification and political maturity.

Power sharing with the armed ethnic groups will be as hard to share as the sharing of business deals in the ethnic states. However, the Burman military men always stress Burmese unionist nationalism. They need to repeat the clichéd political stories from the Cold War against neo-colonialists, against internal destructive elements, and they use these fictions to argue against power sharing with civilians or ethnic groups.

It is not surprising then that their media logo, Myawaddy, has been prevalent in Burmese popular culture for almost 60 years in the form of a literary magazine or TV station and in its latest version, a newspaper. The new Myawaddy state newspaper has its main target apolitical public intellectuals and fiction writers, pop celebrities of the arts, movies and the music industries.

The state’s politically oriented media outlets use people who have surrendered from insurgencies or opposition movements. There was even a propaganda journal called Myat-khin-thit (New Pasture) made up of student-activist rebels who surrendered to the regime after the 1988 Uprising.

The ruling military elite today has been clever in nurturing intellectuals and coining a new term for these propaganda media and specialists as a ‘third force’, which makes it difficult to get a clear view of who is pro- or anti-regime in this repressive nation.

Some clever journalists raise a professional banner and claim they are politically neutral, non-biased, liberal, democratic and long for press freedom and willingly cooperate with all political forces for the sake of state building.

But in reality, they become shameless defenders of the regime as seen during the recent elections. Their journalism skills are far ahead of the state’s own media and old, trained collaborators.

Some of this ‘third force’ has been trained by Western media NGOs and funded by Western donors that used to back the exiled media organizations.

The rhetoric of modern Western governments and political science can now be heard in the new Parliament at Naypyitaw, even in the president’s speech, in rhetoric such as the need to form a clean government and to be transparent.

Some journalists are even working for both sides––for exile news agencies as well as Rangoon-based news journals, masterful in the social and business news and analyses that calls for collaboration with military rule.

The military’s information officials have counter-strategies against the exile media. New formulations are being developed in the ‘third force’ media, such as blog sites or news journals, as well as FM short-wave stations in the cities after football matches, Korean soap operas and Buddhist monks’ Karmic talks. Blogs and journals are also targeting Western media NGOs and diplomatic channels.

The new reporting generation, half a century after the end of private newspapers, is made up of apolitical or politically passive and self-interested newsmen who in effect serve intentionally or subconsciously as the military regime’s proxy press personnel. At the same time, a few political news activists, mostly from political circles, will go marching on in their own war against the regime and its proxy media outlets like the Myawaddy.

Burma is entering the age of Orwell’s 1984, despite the labels of democracy and state building or market economy and development.

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