New Internationalist’s May issue on Burma includes a first-person narrative detailing a day-in-the-life of a onetime Rangoon journalist. Her story (not available online) is striking for its simple chronicle of the banality of censorship.
Now it’s 2:00 p.m. – my boss calls me to go to the censorship office for a meeting.
As we arrive, journalists of all the journals and magazines are sitting in the meeting room, waiting to hear words of wisdom from the head of the censor board, Major Tint Swe.
The meeting has been called to discuss co-operation between journals and the censor board, particularly how to speed up our submission deadlines, because all journals sit one week in the hands of the board’s officials – meaning that when news reaches readers it’s outdated.
But to me it is a boring process and one-sided – whatever suggestions or advice we offer to Tint Swe, he won’t listen to us anyway.
Another piece in the package flips the scenario, tracking a Western journalist, Dinyar Godrej, as he poses as a tourist and quickly learns the ropes of self-censorship.
Every traveler to Burma is told never, ever to initiate a political conversation; let them do the talking. But politics is everywhere. The beaming staff at the reception desk of my guesthouse ask me why I am staying for such a short period. I say I would have loved to stay longer, but because there’s so little good news from Burma in the West I couldn’t persuade friends and family. Tight-lipped silence ensues and I scurry to my room with all the shame of someone who has farted in a lift.
New Internationalist’s multifaceted look at Burma was put together before the devastating cyclone that has left more than 60,000 people dead or missing. Strangely, though, this time lapse makes the stories seem even more relevant, not outdated. The package makes for an excellent backgrounder on the bureaucratic power dynamics playing out now as outside nations haggle with the junta to provide desperately needed aid.