The Use of Sources and the Danger They Face

A scene from the HBO documentary Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country. Photo Credit: HBO

A scene from the HBO documentary Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country. Photo Credit: HBO

Prior to the transition from the authoritarian junta regime to a civilian democracy in 2011, the level of danger that sources in Burma faced was extremely high. The primary method of getting news from Burma to the outside world was through the use of news organizations located outside of Burma with access to clandestine reporters in Burma. As one can imagine, the work of these clandestine reporters was extremely risky and the consequences extremely high.

An example of an undercover reporter who was caught and spent time in prison is Win Maw. On November 27, 2007 military intelligence agents arrested him in a teashop in Yangon. At the time he was working as an inside source for Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a Burmese exile news organization based in Oslo, Norway. He began reporting in 2003, focusing mainly on opposition groups. During the 2007 Saffron Revolution, he helped with the DVB’s coverage of the event from inside the country leading to his eventual arrest. Win Maw was sentenced to 17 years in prison for violations of the Immigration Act, the Electronics Act, and for sending “false” information to a media group run by exiles. He was lucky to be released after a little over four years. (

Although Myanmar has made progress and loosened restrictions on the media there is still evidence of governmental control. On September 2nd, The Irrawaddy, an independent news magazine founded by Burmese exiles, published an article criticizing the Yangon Division chief minister, Myint Swe, for his use of nepotism. The Irrawaddy revealed how the contract for a multi-billion dollar expansion project had been awarded to two Chinese businessmen with whom the chief minister has a close relationship. This choice involved no consultation and there was a blatant lack of transparency involved in the decision making process.

Two days ago, The Irrawaddy disclosed that after this article was published their reporters were advised to use pseudonyms because the chief minister was not pleased with the information being published about his administration. It is well known that corruption and bribery run rampant throughout the Myanmar government; Myint Swe is no special case. However, the journalists that work hard to investigate and uncover this corruption are frequently targeted by the government making it a dangerous issue to discuss. (

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