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Media Freedom Still Murky in Myanmar Despite Progress

Myanmar's decision to dissolve its notorious censorship board was praised by many groups as a step forward in promoting media freedom in the country. But press freedom watchdogs also highlighted the continuing threats, difficulties and attacks experienced by Myanmar-based journalists throughout the past year.

For example, independent reporters continue to face a high risk of being slapped with various lawsuits if they expose controversies in the bureaucracy or criticize high ranking government officials. On February 7, 2013, Myanmar parliament has formed a commission to investigate the writer behind the internet blog post titled “Above the Law” [my]. The post was written by someone who used the pseudonym “Dr. Sate Phwar” in the blog Voice of Myanmar [my]. The article accused members of parliament of disregarding the constitution and also for making decisions on their own without regarding the president's remarks. He sarcastically wrote:

why not add this new amendment in the constitution that whatever the constitution may dictate, the Chairperson of the Hluttaw (parliament) and his companions can decide among themselves by casting votes in the Hluttaw (parliament).

Photo shared by Freedom Media Group (Burma) which wrote that a reporter is being attacked by squatters in a relocation area. The caption also added that “it is said in some news that this is set up by the special police force to make people hate the squatters.”

Similarly last year, domestic journal The Voice Weekly was charged with defamation by the mining ministry for reporting the misuse of funds and fraud inside the ministry. Fortunately, the ministry dropped the charges earlier this year.

Recently, a number of journalists received [my] warnings from Google that there may be pending attacks from “state-sponsored attackers.” The warning was given after the Facebook pages of independent local journals The Voice Weekly [my] and Eleven Media Group [my] were defaced by a group called Anonymous Myanmar. However, the government denied any involvement in the cyber attack.

Perhaps in response to the hacking of media sites, the official website [my] of Myanmar's president was attacked last February 5, 2013 by hackers suspected to be members of a group called “Indonesian Fighter Cyber”.

It is also common to find various hate groups, propaganda photos and messages on the social media. During the Rakhine riot in 2012, propaganda photos from both sides of the conflict circulated on the internet.

Meanwhile, Taw Win Daund shared on his Facebook page a photo which is thought to be the photo of hired comment writers. He labeled the photo:

Photo shared by Taw Win Daund

Hired comment writers or military students? Photo shared by Taw Win Daund

Hired comment writers, lobbying the fight between the president Thein Sein and Vice-senior General Min Aung Hlaing by writing hate comments under the posts of the Eleven Media, the Voice Weekly and 7 Days News journal.

There are mixed views on the photo. Steven Myo commented

the writers also include those who have learned in Russia.

La Min Aung refuted the allegation:

this is wrong, using the photos of the students of the military academy to mislead is not good. This is to divide the people and the army.

Although it is hard to say whether it is true or not, hate comments using vulgar language are very common on Facebook in Myanmar.

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