Page last updated at 14:45 GMT, Friday, 28 September 2007 15:45 UK

Junta tightens media screw

By Michael Dobie
BBC News

Screen grab from Burma's state-run English language TV - 27/09/2007
Burma's state-run media blame foreign media for inciting protests
As Burmese soldiers crush dissent on the streets on Rangoon, the country's military rulers have moved to cut the flow of images and information leaving the country.

Images of a Japanese video journalist gunned down in the street and blood-stained protesters and monks have galvanised international condemnation and calls for restraint from the authorities.

But now correspondents and Burmese dissidents in exile now say it is very difficult or impossible to communicate with anyone in Burma by e-mail, mobile phone or landline.

Most of the country's internet link to the outside world has been cut, mobile phone signals are blocked and telephone lines are almost completely down.

A telecoms ministry official told AFP news agency that the country's main internet link was down because an underwater cable was damaged.

Escalating measures

All this has made it more difficult for people to upload pictures of the mass protests to be picked up by international satellite news channels and beamed around the world, including back to Burma.

Many bloggers report that their contacts in Burma are no longer able to e-mail or upload images.

Journalists at the BBC News website say no images are now being sent from Burma and the previously fast flow of e-mail comments sent from inside the country has slowed to a trickle.

London-based Burmese blogger Ko Htike said he is getting nothing over the internet from his contacts in Burma and that he can no longer reach them by mobile phone.

He told the BBC News website that he can occasionally reach people in Burma on landline telephones, but even this is sporadic.

Burmese monks in Mandalay - 22/02/2007

The only other way to make contact is by satellite phone but these are difficult to come by and the risks for people in Burma are tremendous: three-and-a-half years in prison, he said.

The Irrawaddy news website, however, run by Burmese journalists in exile, has managed to get a few pictures of Friday's protests with a 28 September date stamp on them.

BBC sources in Burma have said that international mobile phone signals have been interrupted and soldiers are searching people for cameras and mobile phones.

On Thursday, a hotel in Rangoon housing foreign journalists was surrounded and ransacked and on Friday, internet cafes were closed.

The regime has gradually but methodically tightened its grip on communications and media.

After the first protests against rising fuel prices several weeks ago, the government cut the telephone links of student leaders.

Next to go were the phone lines to opposition politicians.

As the monks began protesting last week, the government cut telephone lines to the monasteries most active in the protests.

Websites and internet blogs posting information and photographs of the government's action were also blocked.

Instead of a monk picking up the line, callers would hear a message in both English and Burmese saying the telephone line has been suspended, says Moe Myint from the BBC Burmese Service.

'Sky-full of lies'

In a sign that the military junta is afraid of foreign radio and satellite TV coverage of the protests and the crackdown, the state-run media began to get the junta's message out.

Screen grab from Burma's state-run English language TV - 27/09/2007
State media is airing the official view of events in Burma
The Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Thursday: "Saboteurs from inside and outside the nation and some foreign radio stations, who are jealous of national peace and development, have been making instigative acts through lies to cause internal instability and civil commotion."

The official English-language television station, MRTV-3, reported that people were being intimidated into joining the demonstrations.

Screen captions ran scrolling messages saying: "We favour stability. We favour peace. We oppose unrest and violence."

Another screen caption, also read by an announcer, said the BBC and the Voice of America were broadcasting "a sky-full of lies". Another said: "Beware of destructionists, BBC and VOA."

The flow of dramatic images sent by people inside Burma has fuelled international condemnation of the junta but it is now dwindling to a trickle.

It seems that slowly but surely they are trying to draw a veil of ignorance over the country.

video and audio news
Internet coverage of the Burmese protests


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