Though media laws have been relaxed in Myanmar, reporting on politics or sensitive subjects like ethnic unrest are still subject to censorship.
In the past two years, Western nations have seen the new Myanmar president, Thein Sein, usher in a number of reforms, such as allowing an opposition leader, who has spent much of the past 15 years under house arrest, into the Parliament; the release of several hundred political prisoners; and the relaxing of censorship laws, leading to massive rollbacks of international sanctions.
However, activists are quick to point out that Myanmar has a long way to go and cite the unrest in the Rakhine state in the west as perhaps as big a test for Myanmar's media as it is for its government. Though media laws have been relaxed, and the government has promised further loosening of restrictions, news media reporting on politics or sensitive subjects like ethnic unrest are still subject to censorship, as shown by the court cases against the weekly journal The Snapshot, and another weekly publication, the Modern.
“Until now, the government has been relaxing its abusive control of the media but, as it does not know how to assist the media in the new, rapidly emerging political and economic environment … and has initiated at least three prosecutions since the start of the year,” Reporters Without Borders said in a recent statement.
Ethnic and sectarian violence that left more than 60 dead broke out in Rakhine state last month after news spread that a Buddhist woman was raped and killed by three ethnic Rohingya Muslims.
State newspapers highlighted the ethnicity and religion of both the rape and murder victim and the suspects, who were later convicted, using an ethnic slur to refer to the men accused of the crime.