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Burma's Media Focus on Military Leaders, Parties Ahead of Election

Zaw Win, the MEMO 88 coordinator for Burma, says the limited access to news left many Burmese reliant on foreign radio broadcasters, 05 Nov 2010

A report on Burma's election news coverage shows that there is very little reporting on parties and non-government candidates in the lead up to Sunday's vote. Media analysts say international radio plays a key role in getting news to people in Burma.

MEMO 98, a media and research group based in Slovakia, concludes that Burma's state-controlled media completely dominated reporting ahead of the general elections.

The report said found there has been "an exceptionally limited range of diversity" of reporting on candidates, officials and private media in Burma.

The report, released Friday in Bangkok, says that state television news reported only about key military leaders. On Myawaddy TV, almost 90 percent of news programs focused on Prime Minister Thein Sein. The remainder of the news time featured senior leader Than Shwe.

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The report said there are severe restrictions on the news media and heavy censorship.

An analyst for MEMO 98, Marek Mracka, says opposition candidates have had limited access to local media.

"Basically there is no information about the candidates. I mean basically the freedom of expression was completely," said Mracka. "Basically there is no information about the candidates. The overall conclusion is that with people in Burma depending on information coming from state media, they really simply have no information to make a choice, unfortunately."

There are more than 3,000 candidates in Sunday's election, from 37 political parties, with 29 million eligible voters. But more than 20 parties, including the leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy, led by Aung an Suu Kyi, were disbanded under tough election laws.

Zaw Win, the MEMO 88 coordinator for Burma, says the limited access to news left many Burmese reliant on foreign radio broadcasters.

"The radio they can listen to, Voice of America, BBC, and Radio Free Asia or Democratic Voice of Burma Radio. Radio is easy to listen, so they can access all the information by radio," said Zaw Win. "For the television is very limited. All the Internet is very limited. You have to go to Internet cafe. Opposition groups' website you cannot access. Access denied all the time."

Reports say Internet access has become increasingly restricted in recent days, and access to many overseas websites denied. The government also refused to issue visas to foreign journalists to cover the elections.

Zaw Win says local journalists face severe consequences for violating the government's rules.

"Inside [Burma] they're going to arrest them if they're Burmese journalists," said Zaw Win. "They are going to arrest and send them to the prison with a heavy sentence. Some journalists are already in prison because they criticise the government."

The Burma support group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, says 40 people are incarcerated for media-related activities.