Netizens - anxious about media censorship in China - experienced both envy and excitement on Tuesday, a day after privately-owned daily newspapers hit Myanmar’s streets for the first time in decades.
Four Burmese-language newspapers: The Voice, The Golden Fresh Land, The Union and The Standard Time appeared on news stands on Monday, said media reports.
Myanmar’s military-led government abolished censorship last year, allowing the free publication of non-government run daily newspapers. Previously, censors would take several days to edit privately-run newspapers, making daily publications untenable.
“Looks like China has got one less ‘friend’ now, ” wrote a netizen, “ Should we wait until North Korea bans their media censorship?”
“Let’s wait and see if Myanmar will give way to chaos and riots after this,” wrote another ironically. “After all, it’s an evil path they are headed to, ” in referring to a speech given by former President Hu Jintao.
Hu had said in his speech at the 18th party congress that “we reject both the old and rigid closed-door path and the evil path of shifting banners”. The phrase “evil path” has since become a much used word among China’s internet users.
Others noted that Chinese citizens are entitled to publish newspapers as stipulated in China’s constitution. In reality, individuals are prohibited and punished from exercising the right.
“This [freedom to publish] is the real Chinese dream,” wrote a netizen.
It was definitely a dream embraced by editors at China’s Southern Weekly, when their New Year’s Daily editorial originally entitled: "China's dream: the dream of constitutionalism" was censored. It was revised to a piece praising the party and called: "We are closer than ever before to our dreams."
Journalists, editors and concerned citizens across the country later joined Southern Weekly to protest against the party’s media censorship , which a foreign ministry spokeswoman later said “never existed.”
With censorship abolished in Myanmar, some exile news media have gradually and cautiously returned to the country over the last year.
Many journalists have spent years, and some more than a decade, in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison. They were cautious not to return there fearing exaggerated optimism. But so far excitement seems to have triumphed over concern; many say they are reporting freely from Myanmar.
In December, Myanmar’s most authoritative exile media, The Irrawaddy, arrived at Yangon news stands, some 20 years after being established in Thailand.
While a dozen newspapers applied for daily licences, only four managed to master the logistical challenge on Monday. The process hasn’t been smooth, as political interference has not entirely disappeared.
When one of Myanmar’s most popular outlets, Weekly Eleven, applied for a licence to go daily in March, its application was initially rejected because it apparently failed to pay a 100 kyat (HK$0.90) fee.
Despite the presence of an estimate two to three million Chinese speakers in Burma, the leading Chinese weekly Golden Phoenix has not yet announced plans of going daily.