Burma’s media: dramas in the transition

This AFP photo shows Burma’s journalists walked as they wear shirts displaying their campaign slogan "Stop Killing Press" and tape across their mouths during a rally in Yangon on Aug 4, 2012

Burma’s journalists walked as they wear shirts displaying their campaign slogan “Stop Killing Press” and tape across their mouths during a rally in Yangon on Aug 4, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

By Ye Kaung Myint Maung

Burma’s (Myanmar) media industry was crippled by repressive censorship rules of the dictatorship government for more than two decades. So the ruling military’s recent U-turn decision to allow democratic elections and restore civilian government surprised the world as well as its own people.

Last year, the media in this newly democratized country witnessed a series of milestones by the newly elected quasi-civilian government. The country’s parliament officially disbanded the decades old Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) on 24 January 2013 and granted permission for the daily newspapers that have been deterred since the 1990’s.

With the end of harsh censorship rules, return of daily newspapers and the guarantee for media freedom, it seems the country’s media industry is at the end of tunnel.

A military coup that followed nationwide revolution in 1988, allowed the ruling regime to tighten its grip on the media. It placed all broadcast media and three daily newspapers under the Ministry of Information and established the notorious Press Scrutiny Board to oversee publications. It required every printed media in the country to present their contents for approval, usually one week in advance, thus, making private run daily newspaper publication impossible.

The move towards greater press freedom is one of the centerpiece efforts towards democracy.  After half a century of authoritarian rule, the regime’s corruption and mismanagement reduced the South East Asian country with 60 million people from the most promising economy of South East Asia into one of least developed countries in the world.

The Burmese President Thein Sein, an ex-general who was appointed as the prime minister in 2007 and became a civilian president after 2010 election,  recalled Burma’s political exiles to the country and to help in its development. This included a number of civil rights activists, foreign journalists, dignitaries and anti-dictatorship media working in exile since 1988.

Most prominently, Delhi-based Mizzima news, Chiang Mai-based magazine The Irrawaddy and Oslo-based broadcaster Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) are now on back in the country to join in burgeoning local media.

Another positive sign in Burma’s media landscape is the emergence of provincial and ethnic journals in different parts of the country.  For example, in the Shan, Mon, Karen and Chin States and in the Bago Division, provincial news journals focus on news of their respective regions and regional interests.  Some have separate sections in ethnic languages, which are vital for sustaining their ethnic cultures and languages , which are usually not covered by mainstream publications..

On the other hand, Burma’s new media environment has greatly affected the state-owned media.  They must choose between shifting away from their established role as government mouthpieces or becoming obsolete among competitive private run media.

In October 2012, in an attempt to maintain the dominant position, the Ministry of Information, announced that existing state-own media would become “public service media”, which will maintain the privileges in state sponsored news operations and use of media infrastructures.

Vendors sit at a roadside newspaper and journals shop in Yangon April 1, 2013.

Vendors sit at a roadside newspaper and journals shop in Yangon April 1, 2013. Despite the end of government censorship, the state own media still holds on their privileges to overshadow the private media. Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

In the post-censorship period, the struggle for press-freedom in Burma continues.  A number of government officials and private citizens have demonstrated discomfort with the freer media environment.

Warnings and suspensions were imposed for news or opinion articles for writing critical of governance or questioning the corporate responsibility of businesses with military ties. Lawsuits against media for defamation are on the rise.  There are more incidents of reporters being attacked, assaulted or threatened for trying to report on corruption and inferior public works.

Even the public fails to see the media as a Fourth Estate or a reliable institution in nations building.  It was apparent when the famous actress physically assaulted a reporter for asking provocative questions on her marriage. Despite being assaulted physically in public, the people blamed the press for being inconsiderate and overwhelmingly showed their supports to the actress. The reporter took her case to the court.  The trials took over a year and finally ended with a fine of 1000 kyats ($1.20 US) to the actress.

Lacking an organization that represents the media industry makes journalists somewhat helpless in the time of assaults or lawsuits. The government founded Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association (MJWA) as sole the legal journalist association, but its functions were just perfunctory to please the regime and not to back press freedom.

MWJA dissolved last year.  Three new journalist organizations have emerged. First, Myanmar Journalist Association (MJA), is intended to replace the role of MJWA with most of its key members coming from MJWA.  Second, the Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN) is mainly composed of young reporters and editors.  MJN started in late 2011 as a self-help journalist group. Finally, the Myanmar Journalist Union (MJU) was formed by Zaw Thet Htwe, a famous journalist imprisoned for many times.

Although there were criticisms for forming separate groups instead of a consolidated one, all of these journalist groups claim common goals for development of the media industry:  safeguarding press freedom and enhancing journalist’s rights.  Many journalists hold overlapping memberships.  The groups take part in government initiatives, conduct media training, and work with media organizations abroad to exchange information on the local and international media industry.

Now Burmese journalists are using their new freedoms to cover issues of internal violence and ethnic strife that had long been censored.

The rape and murder of a Rakhine girl by three Rohingya men in western Rakhine State in May 2012, led to revenge killing of ten innocent Muslims and rapidly escalated into deadly communal riots in June and October 2012.  The Rohingya issue is always a sensitive one.  Local media were once barred from publishing anything about Buddist-Muslim tensions.

This communal violence has starkly divided the local media and the formerly exiled and foreign media.  They frame the conflict from different perspectives. Local media were accused of fueling the ethnic conflict by taking sides with the majority Buddhist ethnic Rakhine and discriminating against the Rohingya, who are not recognized as indigenous people of Burma and widely considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

At the same time, local media criticized the formerly exiled and international media of taking sides with the Rohingya, internationalizing a local issue, portraying communal violence as genocide and undermining national sovereignty over human rights.

During the height of conflict, both sides were accused of issuing biased or even fabricated reports and misleading photographs of the violence in their printed and online social media pages. People rallied in front of the offices of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which published a map of Myanmar labeling the Rakhine State as land of Rohingya.

A group of Rohingya wait for their breakfast at a temporary shelter in the Idi Rayeuk district of Indonesia's Aceh province in this February 5, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Tarmizy Harva/Files

Rohingya are stateless minority group from western Burma and portrayal of Rohingya is always controversial among Burmese media. Photo Reuters

The Rakhine conflict has altered alliances among media and concerned parties. Traditionally, all media in the country stood together with political parties and UN organizations against the government and military to condemn the abuses in the ethnic conflicts. But the Rohingya issue gives local media and political parties (both Burmese and ethnic parties) common ground.  Local media hailed the military as safeguarding national sovereignty and criticized the international press as being in favor of illegal immigrants.

Often, the divided media industry is reunited whenever restraints fall upon the industry as a whole. The solidarity of journalists was displayed when the local journalists staged the street protests on 6 August against the suspension of two weekly journals. The results: the authorities reversed the suspensions.

Moe Thu Aung, young promising reporter for Radio Free Asia, passed away after motorcycle accident.

Moe Thu Aung, young promising reporter of Radio Free Asia, passed away after motorcycle accident to leave the colleague in grieves. Photo: RFA Burmese

In November 2013,  a young gregarious reporter working for Radio Free Asia was severely injured in motorcycle accident.  As he lay on his deathbed, journalists across the country came together to arrange for his brain surgery and collect funds for urgent medical treatments. Although the young journalist passed away with head injuries on 25th November 2013, Burma’s journalists found themselves united, praying for recovery of their fellow journalist and showing support on social media.

Finally, despite the end of censorship,  public distrust, limited capacities, few resources and an unfavorable atmosphere make people wonder what more challenges will come to Burma’s media industry.   Burma’s newly democratized government and its vulnerable media in transition must figure out how to handle the society’s fragile ethnic conflicts and communal tension.  At this point, it is certain to say that there will be more dramas.


Ref: [Myanmar] Gains need consolidation in landmark year for change by South East Asia press Alliance

Posted in BBC, Burma, Censorship, Corruption, Democracy, East Asia, Ethics, Free Speech, Freedom of Expression, Human Rights, Human Rights Campaigns, Immigration, International Affaris, Journalism, Laws, Media, Media Framing, Myanmar, News Websites, Violence | Leave a comment

Sacrifice Triumphs across Generations in Chinese One-Child Families

By Violet Jiang

The old Chinese saying “I will do whatever it takes to serve my country, even at the cost of my life, regardless of fortune or misfortunes to myself”  is a virtual reflection of one-child families of China.

Certificate of the Only Child: each couple will receive a red certificate as a reward and proof of obeying one-child policy
(by Chang Ting, this picture is retrieved from http://roll.sohu.com/20130426/n374065516.shtml)

When China’s population was approaching 1 billion back in the 1980s, the one-child policy was put in effect as a basic state policy to effectively restrict population growth.

People followed their father’s, grandfather’s and great grandfather’s footsteps to make sacrifices for collective interests by bearing and raising only one child. This policy shows  collective human sacrifice in historic proportions pursuing sustainable civilization goals.  One-child families set the pulse of economic growth for China.

There is only one opportunity per family to have a child.  The birth of a child requires permissions from employers and the government.  Children need to be certified before they are born in order to receive legal state identities. Without ID’s, government benefits pertaining to education, healthcare and housing are not available. 

I am my parents’ only child and grew up believing I was their first and only baby. But it turned out two others could have preceded me.

When the policy change to loosen one-child rules was announced on Nov. 15, an undercurrent of pain surged through my heart.  I was mourning for my lost siblings, who rested in my mother’s womb before me, but got “taken out” for the lack of legal identity.

Though I knew they had used some anti-pregnancy techniques that prevent women from having extra children, I was unaware exactly how lucky I became as the only child. The policy offered me many privileges.  But I saw little dark side until I understood why I have no siblings. 

I was entirely stunned when told there was once a boy, a big brother who I’d have been keen to share with my parents.  And the lonely hole in my heart belongs to him.

After 3 decades, when individual sacrifices are rewarded with increasing national power, once again, single child families are experiencing a twist of fate.  After rumors about loosing it, lifting the one-child edict finally received government endorsements.

Now, it’s time for the only-child generation to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for the policy shift. Embrace the second kid and shoulder responsibilities of taking care of 6-8 persons’ well-being (grandparents from both sides, 2 children and 2 parents) , or keep having only one child and duplicate lavish, but lonely childhoods for their own kids?

China’s future will evolve with family decisions made in the next generation.

Photo by Chang Ting. this picture is retrieved from http://roll.sohu.com/20130426/n374065516.shtml)

Posted in Editor's Notes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Small World Machines: Creating Shared Experiences Between India and Pakistan

By Jesselle Macatiag

Coca-Cola’s Small World Machines campaign brings people of Pakistan and India together.

Coca-Cola’s homepage tagline reads, “Refreshing the world, one story at a time.” In March of 2013, the company refreshed the worlds of two nations divided over decades of conflict: India and Pakistan.

Small World Machines was a Coca-Cola advertising campaign launched to “provoke more happiness… in ways that are tangible and authentic.” The campaign placed one 3D interactive Coke machine in in Lahore, Pakistan and another in New Delhi, India.  The machines created a communications portal where Indian individuals could interact with Pakistanis in real-time. A free can of Coke popped out of each machine after people from the two countries interacted with one another.

At the time of conception, the technology did not exist to pull off this kind of endeavor. Coca-Cola ad agency Leo Burnett teamed up with digital marketing and innovations agency The SuperGroup to create these machines from the ground up.

Leo Burnett’s case study highlights the challenges encountered in creating these machines. The technology not only had to project a real-time full-body image of people in different countries, but also needed to allow for hand-to-hand interaction. The result after three months of 16-hour days and multiple prototypes was an experience worthy of joyous dancing.

India and Pakistan have been embattled in political and religious conflict since 1947. That year Britain dismantled their Indian Empire creating predominately Muslim Pakistan and Hindu dominated, and nominally secular, India.

The princely states of Jammu and Kashmir were given the choice to join, through accession, either India or Pakistan. The Maharaja of Kashmir decided to do neither during the August 1947 partition. 60+ years and three major wars later, the area still sits in territorial dispute between the two countries.

Reactions to the advertising campaign on both the Indian and Pakistani sides were heartwarming. An Indian man who had never seen a Pakistani before said after engaging with the Small Worlds Machine that they were, “Not that different from us.”

Strangers of conflicting nations smiling and dancing with one another restores our faith in humanity.  Moiz Syed and Saad Pall of the Coca-Cola Pakistan team said it best, “What I remember… is that moment when these people weren’t Pakistanis or Indians. For a moment, there were simply human beings. Connecting. Sharing. Smiling.”

Coca-Cola’s Small World Machines campaign may not lead to peace for the two fighting nations. Peace-making by consumerism is by no means a diplomatic solution for six decades of conflict. But for mall-goers in New Delhi and Lahore, it was a small step in Coca-Cola’s mantra to “bring people together through happiness.”

Images: Coca-Cola in Sand: Taken by Peter Davis on Flickr.com

Related articles:

Posted in Cross-Cultural Communications, Diplomacy, Editor's Notes, Media, Pakistan, Strategic Communications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘Act of Killing’ Blurs Lines Between Fiction and Reality

By Stephanie Brown

Home page of 'The Act of Killing's official website

Home page of The Act of Killing‘s official website

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing opens on a row of dancers in long skirts emerging gracefully from the mouth of a large fish. The next scene shows the dancers and several men in robes standing in front of a misty waterfall and swaying to the music, holding their arms out to the sky. It is immediately apparent that this film is going to be a surreal experience.

The utopian paradise evoked by the dancers and the music is soon replaced by a hellish nightmare as a band of former Indonesian gangsters and death squad leaders set out to reenact the atrocities they committed, complete with fake blood, fire, and screaming children.

The Act of Killing follows their journey as they recreate scenes from the anti-communist purge of 1965-1966, when the military overthrew the Indonesian government and contracted known gangsters – including Act of Killing’s main characters – to execute thousands of alleged communists and ethnic Chinese. Today the murderers are celebrated as heroes for their roles in “defending” their nation.

As the film progresses, the line between beautiful and terrible starts to blur. The gangsters’ reenactments include extremely graphic, gritty scenes, like one in which an accused communist is threatened, tied to a table, and strangled. Then, with disturbing ease, their film transitions into scenes as idyllic as the aforementioned waterfall.

Oppenheimer is a master of juxtaposition. He cuts back and forth between these scenes throughout the film, highlighting the stark contrast between them and heightening the viewer’s experience of both beauty and terror. Many of the reenactment scenes look all too real.

One of the earliest reenactments takes place in room full of volunteers. One of the gangsters drags an old man to the center of the room and starts shouting at him while several of the others pick up the man’s “grandchildren” and begin to threaten them. In scenes like these, you have to remind yourself that what you’re seeing is only a reenactment.

Yet for the hundreds of thousands of supposed “communists” murdered by the death squads, such events really happened. These scenes blur the line between reality and reenactment, so much so that you begin to feel uncomfortable. You feel less like a viewer and more like a bystander. You are watching a gang of young men set upon a village of women and children, shouting and burning. When the director yells “Cut!” the children don’t stop crying.

Theatrics are a theme throughout the film. The gangsters are not only making a film, they’re big film buffs as well. They began their careers as “movie theater gangsters” scalping tickets out on the sidewalks. They boast they learned some of their cruelest methods of execution by watching American gangster films. One characters recalls how he and his friends would come out of Elvis films dancing to his music. They would still be dancing as they returned to the day’s killing: “It was like we were killing happily!”

Other than the songs the ex-gangsters sing or incorporate into reenactments, no music is used throughout the film. Oppenheimer excels at using silence. The most poignant shots are of the characters sitting completely still, staring into the distance as if reliving the past, or walking slowly away with their heads down.  Silence emphasizes the shouting in the reenactment scenes. It also illustrates how each of the men involved is haunted by their deeds.

And they are haunted in different ways. One man makes excuses: “War crimes are defined by the winners. I’m a winner. So I can make my own definition.” He finds reasons not to feel guilty, despite admitting that “killing is the worst crime you can do.” Another man denies that he knew about the killings that were going on in his own office, dismissing the others’ insistence that it would be impossible for him not to know. He makes a fuss about how being cruel is completely different from being sadistic, even after the man he’s talking to scoffs, “They’re synonyms.”

All of the gangsters are full of such contradictions. At one point, the leader of Pancasila Youth, the Indonesian paramilitary organization from which the death squads arose, objects to the reenactment of a true incident in which members attacked an allegedly communist village.  He protests that such violence is “not characteristic” of Pancasilia and that seeing it makes him feel “awful.” But he immediately adds that they “must exterminate the communists” and “show how ferocious [they] can be.”

Then there’s the main character, Anwar Congo. Congo dances the cha-cha in the rooftop courtyard where he and his friends killed so many people  and delights in starring in the reenactments. Yet he dreams repeatedly about the staring eyes of a man he beheaded and has to call a stop to a scene in which he is playing the communist being executed. The cha-cha scene becomes extremely important by the end of the film, when the audience is left with a similar yet very different scene.

The Act of Killing leaves you feeling as if you’ve witnessed a blood bath. The blurring of the lines between reality and reenactment, beauty and horror, brings you into the conflicted minds of the gangsters-turned-filmmakers and forces you to really look at how violence is born and how it’s incorporated into society. It’s a film that takes a moment to recover from – but that’s exactly why it’s worth watching.

Learn more about the film at theactofkilling.com.

Posted in Culture, Films, Human Rights, Impunity, Justice, Southeast Asia, Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Dark Alleys are a Safe Haven for Criminals

By Megan Ekhaml
Silk Road Map.

Silk Road Map.

When you hear “Silk Road,” most people think of the historical trade route linking Asia and the Mediterranean. It’s little brother has made a new home – on the Deep Web. And Bitcoin is the currency of choice.

What is the Deep Web? It’s the back alley. The anonymous part of the internet. It was originally created by the United States government to make military communications secure across national borders. Revolutions have prospered from it as well. It provides secure connections between dissidents in an otherwise compromised communication channel. But more and more, it’s the place where drug dealers, hit men, and sex trafficking is thriving.

You need anonymizing software to access the Deep Web. It’s new enough that law enforcement is terrified of it  – they don’t have enough trained agents to deal with the complexity and shear amount of lawlessness.  The government opened up the Deep Web for public use to strengthen the network. The software that enables you use the Deep Web anonymously is called Tor.

Tor is free and obtainable in less than a minute. It has around 500,000 users. The U.S. government is still its primary funder. Other sources include Google, Swedish International Development Cooperative Agency, and The Knight Foundation.

The Silk Road began in 2011 and was the most popular site for criminals before its owner, Ross William Ulbricht, was caught last month. He is 29 years old, and was known as the Dread Pirate Roberts, or DPR. The FBI shut down the site, but it didn’t stay down for long.

Silk Road 2.0 surfaced four weeks after the first Silk Road shutdown and mocks the FBI in its defiance. It has a new owner, but he goes by the same moniker, Dread Pirate Roberts. DPR borrowed the name from The Princess Bride.

Line of methamphetamine.

Line of methamphetamine.

Silk Road 2.0 promises to be a more positive place, but you can still score a wide range of illegal products such as fake passports, an assortment of drugs, and just about anything you can imagine.

Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg conducted an in-depth interview with DPR back in August.  DPR felt so confident about his anonymity via the Deep Web, he bragged about SR’s history, business model and his personal motivations. He says Silk Road is dedicated to freedom of choice. He believes people have the final say in what they do and when they do it.  Government should not meddle in people’s lives, including drug use.  DPR  claims “we’ve won the State’s War on Drugs,” and anything other than pure freedom is “bondage.”

An Al Jazeera article speculates the site was brought down with the cooperation of one of its top administrators. Curtis Clark Green, otherwise known as “chronicpain” and “Flush,” had access to the site member’s financial accounts, including DPR’s, and users’ messages.

Green was caught by an undercover agent while acting as the middle man in a drug deal. After DPR found out Green had been caught, he ordered a hit on his own associate. The agent who arrested Green was the one asked to carry out the hit. Federal investigators saw the opportunity to enlist Green’s cooperation.

To make it look as if the hit had been carried out, law enforcement agents and Green faked his torture and death. It was part of a two-year Federal investigation based in Baltimore, Maryland. Authorities have not confirmed whether Green was the “dead” administrator in the  staged photos, but Green is said to have confirmed it himself.

Before the Silk Road was shut down, its competitors were Black Market Reloaded, Atlantis, and Sheep Marketplace. Silk Road 2.0 was reborn with the help of former Silk Road moderators and users. The new site operates with a manifesto of freedom and ideas rather than materialism. It claims to have put in new security measures and that users will not lose their bitcoins in the event of seizure or shutdown.

Group of guns

Group of guns.

Black Market Reloaded goes even further than Silk Road or Silk Road 2.0. BMR sells weapons. Recently, a gunrunner on BMR was caught and arrested after he tried to sell weapons to a Homeland Security agent. However, weapons are not a hugely popular item on the digital black market. Back in July, DPR cited lack of demand as the reason for not marketing them, but  Silk Road 2.o is considering making them available again.

The Silk Road and its competitors serve as an online market for everything criminals need.  And paying for the products and services is anonymous, thanks to bitcoins.

Plugging into the internet.

Plugging into the internet.

Bitcoins are a virtual currency that has no central banking system and almost has the anonymity of cash. It’s run by the users, and even new currency is created by users. The official creator of Bitcoin is a debated topic, some suggest it began with an idea and spread from there.

The system works like this: over a Peer-2-Peer network, a complex equation is created for each transaction between two computers. Special computers, called “miners,” race to solve this equation. The first computer to solve the equation is rewarded with bitcoins, usually about 25. This reward is outside of the original transaction. These computers are more powerful than your average computer, and they are typically dedicated to solving equations for transactions. The system transacts and creates at the same time. Over time, the value of each bitcoin has skyrocketed: the equivalent value right now is over $600 USD to one bitcoin, according to experts from the Federal Reserve. They are also used by legitimate businesses and the new international computer-based currency’s appeal is slowly spreading.

Deep Web black markets make getting drugs an easier and safer process. Instead of standing on a cold, dark street corner to wait for an armed drug dealer, kids can go online and receive the drugs in the mail a few days later. Just this week, a 17 year old in the United Kingdom overdosed on a drug cocktail while Skyping with his friends. He bought the drugs from Silk Road.

Unlike the real world, where policeman and Federal agents can trace, track, and watch suspects, the Deep Web provides stronger anonymity than any other domain. The authorities don’t yet have the expertise to track these criminals in a widespread fashion like they can conventional law breakers.

Deep Web criminals appear to be average citizens, but they are getting their kicks under cover of darkness on the digital street corner. There is no solid control, no solid regulation of this black market. It has international reach and it’s all operating in the name of freedom.

Silk Road Map: Taken by Simon Pielow on Flickr.com
Line of Methamphetamine: Taken by Michael Allen Smith on Flickr.com
Group of Guns: Taken by Gregory Wild-Smith on Flickr.com
Plugging into the Internet: Taken by photosteve101 on Flickr.com

Posted in Computers, Department of Homeland Security, Drug War, Google, Internet, Justice, Media, Media Owners, Technology, Websites | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment