Once-exiled media craft new role inside Myanmar

December 12, 2012 - 3:50:19 am

YANGON: Their journalists risked jail terms to report inside Myanmar under years of brutal junta rule, but once-exiled media now operate openly -- and face flak for being too cosy with the new leaders.

In a dramatic change of fortunes, the Democratic Voice of Burma, the Irrawaddy website and Mizzima News agency have all set up offices in Yangon, lured back by the reforms their journalism helped engender.

And this week a free copy of The Irrawaddy magazine will hit newsstands in Myanmar’s major cities for the first time since it was founded two decades ago.

It is a move that the organisation says will test the new quasi-civilian government’s commitment to change in the country, as the former pariah state undergoes sweeping reforms. 

“This is the first time we got permission from the government to distribute the magazine inside the country,” Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of The Irrawaddy’s English edition, said, adding that the publication would continue to be “quite critical”.

The Irrawaddy and DVB have long operated from bases in northern Thailand as they tried to report on the secretive junta from exile overseas. 

But now journalists -- among them former political prisoners -- are received by high officials in the government which replaced the disbanded junta in 2011.

“Before, I never slept well. I could be arrested... it could happen anytime,” said Hla Hla Win, a DVB video reporter who spent two-and-a-half years of a 20-year sentence in jail before her sudden release in January along with other political prisoners.

“I’ve been surprised by the new administration, I never imagined they would allow such things... they are more soft dealing with journalists.”

Under military rule the Oslo-based DVB was every day accused by the state-run press of spreading “killer broadcasts”, along with the BBC and other foreign media.

But the news organisation, which boasts an audience of five million, recently opened a downtown office and although it did so under an assumed name and in a discreet apartment, its journalists no longer work in secret.

Myanmar has taken significant strides towards greater press freedom.

Censorship was abolished in August and pictures of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and US President Barack Obama adorn the front pages of magazines and journals.