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Burma Creeping Toward More Open Society

A newsstand in Burma
A newsstand in Burma

Few reforms as important as freedom of the press and freedom of movement.

Of the reforms that the government of Burma has initiated over the past few months, few are as important to the country’s future as the two that Burma’s leadership began to address most recently: freedom of the press and freedom of movement.

In mid August, the Burmese Information Ministry eliminated some of the most egregious censorship requirements. No longer will editors need to submit drafts of hard news stories for government approval prior to publication, a requirement that was dropped last year for publications dealing with entertainment, sports, technology, health and children's issues. Indeed, since last June, the Burmese government has eased censorship on crime and business reporting, unblocked a number of banned websites, including the Voice of America, and allowed entry to foreign journalists.

In late August, the Burmese government began removing names from an immigration blacklist that blocked dissidents and some journalists from entering the country. The Burmese government stated that the list had been compiled “in the national interest.” But now, in accord with ongoing reforms, the list has been shortened.

Lifting the ban is indeed very much in Burma’s national interest. Many of those whose names appeared on that list are people who comprise the country’s conscience: those who raise their voices to point out shortcomings that prevent society from flourishing, that hinder the market from expanding, that blind the government to the need for change. Freedom of speech allows for constructive debate while freedom of the press spreads the ideas behind the debate and helps people understand the situation and contribute their own ideas.

Neither speech nor the press are yet free in Burma. Over 4,000 names remain on the blacklist. Critics and journalists must yet walk softly and weigh their words lest they violate any number of restrictions still in force, including a ban on criticism of the Burmese government. There are no private daily newspapers in Burma, the government controls them all. There is a dearth of journalists and little infrastructure necessary to support an independent, nationwide media network.

But while much still needs to be done, Burma has firmly taken the first steps toward a more open society. The United States congratulates Burma on the advances it has already made toward a bright, prosperous future.