Red Pen Chronicles: When half a story was better than no story

Comments made at a meeting in New York of the 14-nation Group of Friends of Myanmar excite an unfriendly reaction from the censors.

Fully recovered from the frustration of remaking the previous week’s edition to fill holes created by rejections or cuts, the news team at the Myanmar Times awaited red pen rulings for its October 4, 2010 edition.

They included a dispatch from New York quoting then Foreign Minister U Nyan Win telling the United Nations General Assembly that the junta was committed to a “free and fair” election.

“The people will exercise their democratic right to elect the representatives of their own choice who can serve their interests better,” he told the UNGA on September 28, Agence France-Presse reported.

His comments came a day after a meeting of a 14-nation ‘Group of Friends of Myanmar’ created by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. It had “clearly reiterated the need for the election process to be to more inclusive, participatory and transparent”, Mr Ban said.

Then the red pen came out and a 14-paragraph story was cut in half. Seven consecutive paragraphs were excised, starting the news that Mr Ban told reporters the Group had called for the release of political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and adding, “This is essential for the election to be seen as credible and to contribute to Myanmar’s stability and development”.

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No Myanmar government representative attended the Friends of Myanmar meeting.

At least the report was passed with cuts, unlike another story with an international dimension, which might have been rejected because of Myanmar’s relationship with another isolated state. It was an AFP report about the release by North Korea of the first images of Kim Jong-Un, which analysts said confirmed his status as eventual successor of Kim Jong-Il.

Perhaps the story was cut because it focussed on internet chatter in South Korea about how Kim Jong-Un had managed to be so fat when his country was starving.

Back to the election campaign and the only other report rejected from that edition. It was the front page lead. The intro quoted a spokesman for the National Democratic Force as denying rumours that the party had received support from Zaykabar Construction chairman, Dr Khin Shwe. The president of the Myanmar Construction Entrepreneurs’ Association was standing as the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s candidate in Yangon Region’s Amyotha Hluttaw Constituency 9.

The report said it was not clear why a USDP candidate would donate funds to a rival party. It quoted NDF chairman Dr Than Nyein as describing the rumours as “rubbish” and accusing “big shots” in the National League of Democracy of wanting to damage the credibility of the NDF. It was established by breakaway members of the NLD after that party opted to boycott the election.

The replacement front page lead was a report about an independent candidate in Mandalay who had posted enlarged images of prominent political leaders outside his office. U Sein Lwin had the images printed after independent candidates were denied the opportunity to canvass on state-run broadcast media.

The cuts to the report included a description of one of the posters. It featured an image of independence hero General Aung San and text from one of his famous speeches: “Being a stubborn daredevil is not a martyr. Only one who is serving the interest of their land and their people is a martyr.”

The front page included a report quoting NDF vice chairman Dr Than Win as warning that voters who decided against voting in the 2010 election would be weakening the chances of “democratic” parties. His indirect reference to the NLD boycott was cut. It quoted Dr Than Win as saying: “Some people have fallen prey to calls to boycott the election, while others think the result if already predetermined.”

There were also cuts to a report about campaigning in Mandalay by the 88 Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar), a pro-junta party that might have been hoping to mislead supporters of the 88 Generation student movement. It had been placed on page 5. The censors instructed that it be moved “inside”. As they say in the United States, “Go figure”.

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