For nearly five decades, a room in Rangoon, Burma, hummed with around 100 government employees, mostly women, wielding red pens. This was the office of Burma’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, charged with censoring everything from newspaper articles to the phonebook. The employees scrubbed out anything that might seem offensive to Burma’s military government, including mentions of opposition politics, corruption, poverty and the name “Burma” itself, which had been shelved in favor of Myanmar. According to Thomas Kean, the editor of the English-language edition of the Myanmar Times, “After reading it for one or two days, they would return the draft of the newspaper with words, paragraphs, photographs and sometimes whole articles censored. We would replace the censored articles with backup articles that we also sent to the censorship board.” The process took so long that most newspapers could publish only weekly.
But since 2011, when the military junta began pushing Burma towards democracy, censorship rules have been slowly relaxed. In August 2012, the nation’s censor-in-chief, U Tint Swe, announced that his office would finally close. Newspapers would now have to censor their own work, but only after making a Kyat 5 million (US$5,717) deposit, out of which fines would be taken for infractions. The change toward press freedom might be gradual, but it is undeniable. “There are very few countries in the world where you can say that 10 publications are preparing to go from weekly to daily in the next few months,” says Kean. “Today, this is a good place to be a journalist.”
From the pages of COLORS #86 - Making the News.