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Censorship in Myanmar

Censorship in Myanmar (also called Burma) results from government policies in controlling and regulating certain information, particularly on religious, ethnic, political, and moral grounds.

Freedom of speech and the press are not guaranteed by law. Many colonial-era laws regulating the press and information continue to be used. Until August 2012, every publication (including newspaper articles, cartoons, advertisements, and illustrations) required pre-approval by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRB) of the Ministry of Information.[1][2] However, the 2011–2012 Burmese political reforms signalled significant relaxations of the country's censorship policies and in August 2012 the Ministry of Information lifted the requirement that print media organisations submit materials to the government prior to publication.[3]

Burma ranked 151st of 179 nations in the 2012–2013 worldwide Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders.[4] As of 2023 Myanmar is considered one of the least free countries in the world in terms of censorship. Freedom House scores it a mere 9 out of 100 on the Global Freedom Index and categorizes it as “not free.”[5]


Konbaung dynasty

During the reign of King Mindon Min of Burma's last dynasty, the Konbaung dynasty, the country had one of the freest presses in Asia. The Seventeen Articles, passed in 1873 safeguarded freedom of the press.

Colonial era

In 1878, after Lower Burma was annexed by the United Kingdom, the Vernacular Press Act was passed, which attempted to repress propaganda against the British government in local language newspapers. In 1898, the Criminal Procedure Code allowed the government to convict people for treason and sedition on grounds of disseminating false information against the state. Soon after, in 1908, the Unlawful Associations Act, was enacted to further stifle freedom of expression.[6]

The Official Secrets Act was passed in 1923, which makes it unlawful for any person to possess classified information from the state. A decade later, the Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act was passed, criminalising possession of telegraphs without government permission. However, there were numerous publications in circulation during the colonial era, with a steady increase. In 1911, there were 44 periodicals and newspapers in circulation, and 103 in 1921.[6] By the end of the 1930s, there were over 200 newspapers and periodicals in circulation, double the amount in 1921.[6]

Post-independence era

Burma gained independence in 1948. The Constitution of the Union of Burma (1947) guaranteed freedom of expression, guaranteeing the "liberties of thought and expression".[7] Two years later, the Emergency Provisions Act, which criminalised the spreading of false news knowingly and the slandering of civil servants and military officials was enacted. Despite the law, in the 1950s, Burma had one of the freest presses in Asia, with 30 daily newspapers (in Burmese, Chinese, English, and Indian languages).[8]

After the military coup d'état by Ne Win in 1962, the Printers and Publishers Registration Law was enacted. This law, still in function, requires all printers and publishers to register and submit copies of their publications to the Press Scrutiny Board, under the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs (now under the Ministry of Information). In 1975, the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma (1975), Article 157, ensured "freedom of speech, expression and publication to the extent that the enjoyment of such freedom is not contrary to the interests of the working people and of socialism."[8]

The Memorandum to all Printers and Publishers Concerning the Submission of Manuscripts for Scrutiny was issued by the Printers and Publishers Central Registration Board. It gave explicit guidelines on materials that would be censored, including those whose contents were injurious to the Burmese socialist program, the state ideology, the socialist economy, national unity, security, peace and public order, pornographic in nature, libelous, slanderous, or critical of the national government. That same year, the State Protection Law was issued, allowing authorities to imprison any persons who have been suspected of being a threat to national peace. This law has been the basis for the arrests of many journalists and writers.

1988 coup d'état

After a military coup d'état, led by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), in 1988, martial law orders were quickly issued, banning public gatherings, banning activities, publications, and speeches aimed at dividing the Armed Forces, and criminalising the publication of documents without registration with the state. Martial law orders have since been repealed.

Military rule

In 1996, several laws were passed to control further dissemination of information in Burma. These include the Law Protecting the Peaceful and Systematic Transfer of State Responsibility and the Successful Performance of the Functions of the National Convention against Disturbances and Oppositions, which prohibits activities aimed at destroying peace, stability, law and order. In addition, it illegalised acts of demeaning the National Convention. Media laws including the Television and Video Act, which requires owners of media players (including televisions, satellites, and videocassette recorders) to obtain licenses from the Ministry of Communications, Posts, and Telegraphs and instituted Video Censorship Boards on domestic-produced videos, and the Motion Picture Law, which requires licenses issued by the Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise in making films were passed.[9]

Films are subject to censorship by the Motion Picture Censor Board. In addition, The Computer Science Development Law was passed. Under this law, all computer equipment must be approved by the Ministry of Communications, Posts, and Telegraphs. In addition, the distribution, transfer, or acquisition of information that undermines state security, national solidarity and culture, is a criminal offence. SLORC, in 1997, renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). In 2000, the Internet Law, which prohibits posting of writings that are harmful to state interests, was issued by SPDC. Foreign news has also been censored by the government. British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America radio broadcasts were jammed, beginning in 1995.[9] Foreign reporters are discouraged from reporting from Myanmar, and are regularly denied entry.[9]

The period saw a number of high-profile journalist arrests, such as Aung Pwint, who was jailed in 1999 for fax-machine ownership and "sending news" to banned papers.[10][11] In 2008, Myanmar Nation editor Thet Zin was arrested for having a copy of a UN human rights report.[12] In July 2014, five journalists were jailed for ten years after publishing a report accusing the government of planning to build a new chemical weapons plant. Journalists described the jailings as a blow to recently-won news media freedoms that had followed five decades of censorship and persecution.[13]


Internet censorship in Burma is classified as selective in the political and Internet tools areas, as substantial in social, and as no evidence of filtering in conflict/security by the OpenNet Initiative in August 2012.[14][15] Burma is listed as an Internet enemy by Reporters Without Borders in 2011.[16]

According to a study conducted by OpenNet Initiative (ONI) in 2005, Internet censorship was mostly confined to websites related to pro-democracy groups and those on pornography.[17] In addition, 85% of e-mail service provider sites were blocked. The Myanmar Information Communications Technology Development Corporation (MICTDC) licenses cybercafés.[17] Users are required to register, and owners are required to save screen shots of user activity every five minutes, and upon request, deliver them to MICTDC for surveillance. However, cybercafé regulation is loose.[17]

ONI conducted testing in Burma during August 2012. The results of these tests showed that both the scope and depth of content found to be filtered were drastically reduced compared to all previous rounds of ONI testing dating back to 2005. Restrictions on content deemed harmful to state security, however, remained in place. Pornography is still widely blocked, as is content relating to alcohol and drugs, gambling websites, online dating sites, sex education, gay and lesbian content, and web censorship circumvention tools. In 2012, almost all of the previously blocked websites of opposition political parties, critical political content, and independent news sites were accessible, with only 5 of 541 tested URLs categorised as political content blocked.[15]

Political reform

In November 2010, shortly after Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest, 10 local publications were suspended for placing "too much importance" on her release in their articles.[18]

Since 10 June 2011, PSRB has allowed publications to self-censor publications dealing with entertainment, sports, technology, health and children's issues, allowing editors to circumvent the mandated practice of submitting report drafts to the PSRB prior to publication.[19] This relaxation has occurred in a series of trials over a span of time. In July 2011, Group 1 publications, consisting of 178 journals and magazines, were no longer censored.[20][21] In the new system, the first strike requires the publication to pay a K5,000,000 (about US$5,000) deposit. The second strike results in a fine that is withdrawn from that deposit.[20] The depleted amount must be topped up by the publisher or the publication is banned.[20] In December 2011, an additional 54 publications in the business and crime genres, were allowed to self-censor their work.[22]

Tint Swe, director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, has publicly called for the abolition of media censorship in the country, stating that it is not in line with democratic practices.[19][23] Tint Swe has also indicated that censorship for videos and films would be relaxed, without specifying a time frame.[24]

In September 2011, several banned websites including YouTube, Democratic Voice of Burma and Voice of America have been unblocked.[25] Foreign journalists, including those from the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America, were issued visas to the country the following month.[26] A presidential adviser indicated that press censorship would be abolished in 2012 under new media legislation.[27]

In January 2012, the Ministry of Information announced that it had forwarded a draft of a new media and press law to the Attorney General's Office for review.[22] The draft law, which will need to be approved by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (National Parliament), borrows some language from similar laws in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam.[22] The draft law, which is adapted from the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, will not be submitted during the second parliamentary session.[28]

In August 2012, the Ministry of Information lifted the requirement that print media organisations submit materials to the government before publication; films remained subject to prior censorship. The head of the PSRB, Tint Swe, told the Agence France-Presse that "censorship began on 6 August 1964 and ended 48 years and two weeks later".[3] The Associated Press described the statement as "the most dramatic move yet toward allowing freedom of expression in the long-repressed nation".[29] However, the ban on private ownership of daily newspapers remained, as did a law forbidding the publication of "information relating to secrets of the security of the state". Journalism organisations expressed cautious optimism at the change, but predicted that "a pervasive culture of self-censorship" would remain, as journalists feared long prison sentences associated with libel and state security charges.[30]

As publication legislation slowly ameliorates in Burma in the wake of last August's ban of pre-publication censorship, editorial independence is still hampered by a new requirement for publications to send in published works for post-publication analysis. The PSRB remains a threat to the nation's freedom of press, wielding the same power to audit and sanction publications deemed inflammatory to the Burmese government as it has for the previous five decades.[31][32] Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of Reuters, were charged and jailed on 12 December 2017 by authorities near Rangoon for concealing 'secret papers' which violated a colonial era law.[33] The two Reuters journalists had been covering the predominantly Muslim Rohingyas' exodus from the country due to persecution. On 3 September 2018, the journalists were both sentenced to seven years in prison sparking outrage among the international community.[34]

2021 Coup


After the Myanmar military seized power on February 1, 2021, the people of Myanmar have experienced internet connectivity outages, a frequent shutdown of cellular data for several networks, and controlled or blocked use of some websites.[35] The use of social media including Facebook has been restricted, and social influencers have been arrested due to their anti-coup protests on social media platforms.[36]


Telecommunications companies and internet service providers were ordered to install intercept spyware months before the coup.[37][38] Junta has assumed control of the biggest telecom firms such as MPT, Mytel.[38] One of the country’s biggest telecommunication companies, Telenor, which is owned and operated by the Norwegian government, decided to leave the country,[39] and sell its business to M1 Group. M1 plans to sell 80% of shares to Shwe Byain Phyu which has strong links to the military.[40][41]


Official newspapers are controlled by the military and the country no longer has any independent newspaper in publication.[42] The military pressured newspapers such as 7 Day News and Eleven to stop publishing. Using article 505 (a) of the Myanmar Penal Code, the military targeted entire news organizations and told the media to not use the term "junta" and "coup d'état" as they would face sanctions as a consequence.[43]


The military also imposed a ban on satellite television. They claimed that outside broadcasts threatened state security and anyone who violates the measure is to be punished with one year imprisonment.[44] The ban targeted independent broadcasters such as the Democratic Voice of Burma, Mizzima and other ethnic media such as Kachin-based 74 Media and Shan-based Tachileik News Agency. It also affected foreign news channels broadcast through satellites into the country.[45]



  1. ^ Wai Phyo Myint (1 August 2005). "Publishing rebounds". The Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 25 December 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  2. ^ "Burma - Annual report 2011-2012". Reporters Without Borders. 2011–2012. Archived from the original on 26 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Burma abolishes media censorship". BBC News. 20 August 2012. Archived from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Press Freedom Index 2013" Archived 15 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Reporters Without Borders
  5. ^ "Myanmar: Freedom on the Net 2021 Country Report". Freedom House. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  6. ^ a b c Ikeya, Chie (November 2008). "The Modern Burmese Woman and the Politics of Fashion in Colonial Burma". The Journal of Asian Studies. 67 (4). Cambridge University Press: 1277–1308. doi:10.1017/S0021911808001782. S2CID 145697944.
  7. ^ "The Constitution of the Union of Burma". Democratic Voice for Burma. 1947. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved 7 July 2006.
  8. ^ a b "The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma". Printing and Publishing Corporation, Rangoon. Democratic Voice for Burma. 1974. Archived from the original on 7 December 2006. Retrieved 10 January 2007.
  9. ^ a b c Venkateswaran, KS (August 1996). Burma: Beyond the Law (PDF). Article 19. ISBN 1-870798-28-7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 January 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  10. ^ "Heroes of Press Freedom". The Washington Post. 23 November 2004. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  11. ^ "CPJ International Press Freedom Awards 2004". Committee to Protect Journalists. 2004. Archived from the original on 31 May 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  12. ^ Packer, George (30 November 2009). "Annual Reminder: Some Journalism Deserves Respect!". The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  13. ^ "Report on chemical weapons earn Myanmar journalists jail term with hard labour". Myanmar News.Net. Mainstream Media EC. 11 July 2014. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  14. ^ OpenNet Initiative "Summarized global Internet filtering data spreadsheet", 29 October 2012 and "Country Profiles", the OpenNet Initiative is a collaborative partnership of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and the SecDev Group, Ottawa
  15. ^ a b "Update on information controls in Burma", Irene Poetranto, OpenNet Initiative, 23 October 2012
  16. ^ Internet Enemies Archived 15 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Reporters Without Borders, Paris, March 2011
  17. ^ a b c "Internet Filtering in Burma in 2005: A Country Study". Country Studies. OpenNet Initiative. 2005. Archived from the original on 5 September 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  18. ^ "Aung San Suu Kyi's Release: First Euphoria then Sanctions" (PDF). Burmes Media: Combating Censorship. Reporters Without Borders: 6. November 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  19. ^ a b Kyaw Kyaw Aung (7 October 2011). "Call To End Media Censorship". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  20. ^ a b c Htun, Yadana (13 June 2011). "Pre-censorship lifted for some publications". The Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 21 June 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  21. ^ Nyunt Win; Kyaw Hsu Mon (4 July 2011). "Press scrutiny official 'satisfied' with transition to self-censorship". The Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  22. ^ a b c Lwin, Myo (30 January 2012). "Media law to protect rights of journalists, says ministry". The Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 29 October 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  23. ^ Banyan (11 October 2011). "Censor starts talking sense". The Economist. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  24. ^ "Myanmar eases censorship for some: local media". AFP. 10 December 2010. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  25. ^ Andrew Buncombe (17 September 2011). "Burmese junta relaxes access to foreign websites". The Independent. London. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
  26. ^ Kyaw Hsu Mon (17 October 2011). "Further progress needed on media, say journalists". The Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 1 June 2014. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  27. ^ "Burma says it plans to abolish press censorship". Australia Network News. 22 November 2011. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  28. ^ Yadana Htun (6 February 2012). "Press law to wait until next hluttaw session: govt". The Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 25 July 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  29. ^ Todd Pitman (20 August 2012). "Myanmar ends direct media censorship in most dramatic move yet for freedom of expression". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 21 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  30. ^ Martin Petty (20 August 2012). "Myanmar government abolishes direct media censorship". Reuters. Archived from the original on 21 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  31. ^ "Cautious welcome for announced lifting of pre-publication censorship". Reporters Without Borders. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  32. ^ "Burma ends pre-publication censorship; harsh laws remain - Committee to Protect Journalists". 20 August 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  33. ^ Eltagouri, Marwa. (13 December 2017). "Two journalists covering Rohingya crisis in Burma arrested for possessing 'secret papers'". Washington Post website Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  34. ^ Griffiths, James; Grinberg, Emanuella; McKirdy, Euan (3 September 2018). "Myanmar: Reuters journalists investigating Rohingya killings sentenced to 7 years in prison". CNN. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  35. ^ Padmanabhan, Ramakrishna; Filastò, Arturo; Xynou, Maria; Raman, Ram Sundara; Middleton, Kennedy; Zhang, Mingwei; Madory, Doug; Roberts, Molly; Dainotti, Alberto (2021). "A multi-perspective view of Internet censorship in Myanmar". Proceedings of the ACM SIGCOMM 2021 Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet. pp. 27–36. doi:10.1145/3473604.3474562. ISBN 9781450386401. S2CID 236528907. Retrieved 17 April 2022. ((cite book)): |website= ignored (help)
  36. ^ "Myanmar targets celebrities, hands charges for promoting protests". Daily Sabah. Associated Press. 5 April 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  37. ^ Potkin, Fanny; Mcpherson, Poppy (18 May 2021). "How Myanmar's military moved in on the telecoms sector to spy on citizens". Reuters. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  38. ^ a b "Junta steps up phone, internet surveillance – with help from MPT and Mytel". Frontier Myanmar. 5 July 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  39. ^ "Sale of Telenor Myanmar approved by Myanmar authorities". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  40. ^ Greig, Jonathan. "Outrage over Telenor Myanmar sale grows as more ties between military and new owner revealed". ZDNet. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  41. ^ "Update: internet access, censorship, and the Myanmar coup". Access Now. 18 March 2022. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  42. ^ "Myanmar becomes a nation without newspapers". Myanmar NOW. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  43. ^ "Myanmar's military junta eliminates independent media | Reporters without borders". RSF. 25 March 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  44. ^ "Myanmar announces ban on satellite TV as security threat". Reuters. 4 May 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  45. ^ "Myanmar: Junta Bans Satellite Television". Human Rights Watch. 6 May 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2022.

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Censorship in Myanmar
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