Asia - Pacific
Myanmar
-
Index 2022
176/180
Score : 25.03
Political indicator
149
40.40
Economic indicator
155
29.25
Legislative indicator
178
20.18
Social indicator
174
30.67
Security indicator
180
4.63
Index 2021
140/180
Score : 53.86
N/A
Indicators not available because the calculation method was changed in 2022

The military junta formed by the coup d’état on 1 February 2021 obliterated the fragile progress towards greater press freedom that had been seen since the previous military junta disbanded in 2011.

Media landscape

The 2021 coup shattered the media landscape. The junta quickly issued a list of media outlets that were banned for being outspoken, including the Democratic Voice of Burma, which began fighting for press freedom in Myanmar from a base in Norway in the 1990s. It has had to readopt the clandestine reporting methods it developed during the previous decades of military dictatorship. These banned media outlets play a fundamental role in providing the rest of the world with reliable reporting. The government-controlled media, on the other hand, are just propaganda outlets that receive scant attention from the population. Between these two poles, a handful of media outlets tread a delicate path between trying to inform their fellow citizens and the need to not offend the generals.

Political context

The State Administration Council, as the junta is officially called, tolerates no alternative to its narrative. To this end, it has reestablished the old system of prior censorship and prevents the media from covering the many human rights violations it is committing. The head of the junta, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, openly promotes a policy of terror towards journalists who do not toe the junta’s line.

Legal framework

As well as often taking completely arbitrary action, the generals almost systematically invoke the very vaguely worded Section 505 (a) of the penal code, under which “false information” is punishable by three years in prison. Use is also made of Section 66 (d) of the telecommunications law, another legal archaism that criminalises defamation and can be used to jail journalists for three years if anyone disputes what they have written.

Economic context

As well as often taking completely arbitrary action, the generals almost systematically invoke the very vaguely worded Section 505 (a) of the penal code, under which “false information” is punishable by three years in prison. Use is also made of Section 66 (d) of the telecommunications law, another legal archaism that criminalises defamation and can be used to jail journalists for three years if anyone disputes what they have written.

Sociocultural context

The 2021 coup was only a partial surprise as the climate surrounding press freedom had already hardened under the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The biggest blow was the 2018 arrests of two Reuters journalists who had investigated a massacre of Rohingya civilians. They were subjected to a sham trial and finally pardoned and released after more than 500 days in prison. Their ordeal served as a warning to all journalists, who realised they would have to think twice before doing any investigative reporting that could embarrass the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s armed forces are known. This case was accompanied by a surge in disinformation and hate speech on Facebook, whose failure to regulate content has had a  disastrous impact on the public debate in Myanmar.

Safety

What with the risks of being jailed, tortured or murdered, journalism is an extremely dangerous profession in Myanmar, which has become one of the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, second only to China. The few accounts emerging from Myanmar’s jails indicate extremely harsh conditions and systemic use of torture. Three journalists were killed by the junta in December 2021 and January 2022. Two of them died as a result of abusive treatment while in custody.