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Burma Launches English Satellite Channel - 2001-08-03

The military government of Burma, also known as Myanmar, has launched the country's first-ever English-language satellite television channel. Burmese officials say the channel will allow audiences in Burma and overseas to keep abreast of political and economic developments. Critics are dismissing the channel as a propaganda tool meant to avert attacks on its human rights record.

The English-language broadcasts began Wednesday in Burma on a trial basis. This weekend, the satellite channel begins beaming three-hour-long news programs to an overseas audience on Saturdays and Sundays. Burmese officials say the channel will eventually expand its programming to include cultural performances and tourism updates.

The state-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) is overseeing production of the new channel. MRTV is one of only two television channels allowed in Burma. The other channel is owned by the Ministry of Defense.

A spokesman for the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Vincent Broissel speculates the government is desperate to use satellite technology to convince the outside world that international criticism of the Rangoon government for various human rights abuses is unfair. But Mr. Broissel predicts the tactic will fail. "We know many journalists are in jail, at least 18. The censorship is very drastic," he says. "The military controls all of the information in magazines and newspapers. I think they will not make Burma more attractive. It's just a little cosmetic tinge [appearance] to try to appear more friendly."

On Tuesday, Reporters Without Borders issued a scathing 20-page report on Burma, calling the country "the largest prison for journalists in Asia." The group urged that sanctions be maintained against the military government, until the jailed journalists are released and censorship is eliminated.

The international community has largely isolated Rangoon's military leaders for harassing and detaining political opponents, and for a wide range of human rights abuses, including the alleged use of slave labor.

The government denies many of the human rights charges and insists it is committed to moving toward democracy. But Rangoon says the process must be done gradually to ensure a peaceful transition.