Red Pen Chronicles: Red flag raised over Yangon ceremony

A ceremony at Yangon City Hall to raise the new national flag becomes a victim of sensitivity at censorship headquarters on Wingaba Road about the use or placement of images.

The censors sometimes raised red flags over pictures, as was the case with two images placed on page one of the Myanmar Times for the week beginning October 25, 2010.

They showed the new national flag and a ceremony marking its unfurling at Yangon City Hall for the first time on October 21. State media had announced the adoption of the new national flag only a few hours before it was raised in Yangon and elsewhere throughout the nation. A possible reason why the images were rejected is because they were not of a flag-raising in Nay Pyi Taw.

The flag pix were replaced with an image of members of the National Unity Party. It accompanied the front page lead story quoting a member of the NUP’s central executive committee saying it expected to fare “far better” than in 1990, when it won 10 seats to the National League for Democracy’s 392.

U Han Shwe said the NUP had a 50 percent chance of winning in 30 percent of the constituencies in which it was competing directly against the Union Solidarity and Development Party. It was an optimistic prediction. The NUP fielded 295 Pyithu Hluttaw candidates, of whom 12 won to the USDP’s 212. There were 149 Amyotha Hluttaw NUP candidates, of whom five won to the USDP’s 124.

The red pen was flourished when U Han Shwe said the NUP had won 3.3 million votes nationally in 1990, to the NLD’s 7 million. “We cannot call the NLD’s victory decisive because the NUP got half as many votes at the time, and we accepted the results,” he added and that was cut, too.

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The story cited a report by the Social Science Research Council’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum suggesting that the “most likely” outcome of the election was the NUP holding the balance of power between the USDP and democratic parties.

Cut from the story were comments by the report’s author, Richard Horsey, that if the election did result in the NUP holding the balance of power, it “may mean that lawmaking is dominated by a conservative, authoritarian-leaning nationalism; but it would certainly not be merely a facsimile of the present regime in civilian clothing”.

Substantial cuts were made to a feature report about the race for the Pyithu Hluttaw seat in downtown Yangon’s Pazundaung Township in which the candidates included an independent, U Yan Kyaw, and the USDP’s Dr Tin Tun Oo.

Cut from the story was U Yan Kyaw’s description of Dr Tin Tun Oo as a “semi-crony” who was using his financial clout in the electorate to win over undecided voters.

The red pen lashed out at references to Dr Tin Tun Oo’s donations to various local causes, which were listed in his campaign flyer distributed in the township. They included K100,000 to the Mothers and Children Association towards the cost of new maternity centre and K50,000 to the Basic Education High School (4) in Pazundaung for new furniture and water storage facilities. The flyer also listed a donation of books and journals valued at K800,000 to the Pazaundaung Township Information and Relationship Centre.

Dr Tin Tun Oo’s relationship with the then Information Minister, Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan, had paid rich dividends, lots of them, when he acquired a majority stake in the Myanmar Times in 2005 after its deputy chief executive officer, U Myat ‘Sonny’ Swe, was detained in the fallout from the purge of Military Intelligence the previous year and given a 14-year jail sentence for contrived censorship offences. (Sonny Swe is now the publisher of Frontier.)

An interview with the reformist former Minister for National Planning and Economic Development, Brigadier-General (retired) David Abel that touched on economic reform received savage treatment. Among the cuts was his observation that “if the exchange rate and currency value rules were reformed, the economy will improve in leaps and bounds.”

Criticism, direct, indirect or prescient, of economic mismanagement went nowhere before August 18, 2012, when pre-publication censorship was lifted.

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