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Burma, the curse of independence: a media black hole

RISJ Admin

Contributing Author

According to Shelby Tucker, Burma may not be entirely a media black hole, but it is certainly under-reported for all of the following reasons:'Persona Non Grata' Factor: Journalists or scholars who report negatively on Burma are barred entry, They must either rely on hearsay or enter Burma clandestinely.
Prohibited Areas Factor: Large parts of Burma are out of bounds to foreigners.
Favoured Sons' Factor: For the past 45 years, no one has been allowed access to Burma's archives except scholars sympathetic to the regime. Shelby could think of only one exception, Mary Callahan, whose father was US Military attaché on good terms with the generals.
Language Barrier: Western reporters don't read or speak Burmese, and working through intermediaries is not at all the same as direct examination of the evidence.
But overarching all these other difficulties of reporting on Burma are the complexities of its demography and history. Anna Allott, an expert on Burmese culture, was on hand to give her analysis of the current situation.
Trevor Mostyn writes:
Shelby Tucker (Wednesday lecture, November 28th) crossed from the Shan States of China into the remote hills of Eastern Burma in 1989. He was detained by Communist rebels, handed over to Kachin rebels and eventually arrested by the Indian army in the forbidden areas of northeast India. The adventurous journey gave him a profound interest in Burma and, in particular, its mostly Christian minorities. Two successful books followed, Among Insurgents about his journey and Burma the Curse of Independence, a modern history of Burma. In his lecture Tucker stressed the difficulty for foreigners in learning Burmese and in distinguishing complex Burmese names. Some questioners regarded this as a somewhat colonial approach. Tucker also felt that the problems he had faced made objective media coverage of Burma affairs difficult. However, Tucker invited to the lecture a fluent Burmese speaker, Anna Allott, who gave the audience an interesting analysis of what lay behind the recent huge protest campaign led by Burma's Buddhist monks.