Ahead of Burmese Poll, Junta Faces Off with A Familiar Foe

  •  oct 20
  • Inter Press Service

The key role that radio plays - more than newer communication platforms like Facebook and Twitter - is at the heart of an Amnesty International campaign that has been seeking to 'break the silence' in the South-east Asian nation. By polling day on Nov. 7, the London-based Amnesty International hopes to have distributed over 4,000 radio sets to people living in a country under the iron grip of a military regime.

'Amnesty International just wants people in Burma to hear the truth,' said Niall Couper of the British branch of Amnesty, in an e-mail interview. ' It is the first time we have done a campaign like this.' Amnesty International's supply of radios, in addition to 60 walkie-talkie kits and six satellite kits, is being directed towards people living in the hinterland where 'there aren't that many radios,' reveals Couper. But details such as the brand of the radio units and how they are being delivered are being kept a closely guarded secret because of 'security reasons.'

This faith in this traditional medium is echoed by Burmese pro-democracy activists familiar with its dominance as an information source in the country's media landscape. A flourishing border trade with China has been a driver behind the supply of cheap Chinese-made radios across the country.

'Radio is a very powerful tool to open the iron curtain of a closed-door society like Burma,' said Aung Din, head of U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Washington DC-based lobby group championing political reform. 'It is also a major threat to the regime, effectively undermining its ability to control the flow of information in the media.'

Regular radio broadcasts have been pivotal to keep the people informed about the '2008 constitution, electoral laws, election campaigns and the illegal campaigns of the regime's party,' Aung Din told IPS. 'They have also broadcast voices of NLD (National League for Democracy) leaders and ethnic party leaders who have been calling the people to boycott the poll.'.

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