Jan 12, 2013

Myanmar - Too Racy for Myanmar Censors

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Bedroom tips and sexy photos in a monthly magazine were just too much for Myanmar’s government, which yanked the publication’s license despite a new era of reforms and increased personal freedoms.

The monthly magazine “Hnyo,” was ordered to stop publication, according to an announcement on the Ministry of Information’s website. Billed as a fashion magazine, “Hnyo” published pictures of scantily clad women paired with articles discussing sexual themes, including bedroom tips, in its December issue. Myanmar officials said on the website post that the magazine violated regulations by publishing such material, since the magazine was licensed only to cover fashion.

In August, Myanmar abolished direct censorship of media, ending the long-standing practice of requiring newspapers and magazines to submit their articles to government censors for inspection. The Ministry of Information now allows political, religious and other newspapers and magazines to publish without prior approval, though it has since then temporarily suspended weekly newspapers.

Unlike neighboring Thailand or the Philippines, Myanmar is a relatively conservative society that typically shies away from overt displays of sexuality. Magazines like FHM – the UK-based men’s lifestyle magazine featuring women in seductive poses and lingerie – has toned-down versions available in Malaysia and Singapore, but no equivalent is found on newsstands in Myanmar.

Officials from the Ministry of Information could not be reached for further comment.

At a meeting for publishers, printers and others involved in the media industry, Ye Tint, who chairs a government committee managing printed materials, said Wednesday that one magazine – referring to “Hnyo” – and six journals “went beyond the genres they originally admitted to.” Mr. Ye Tint  said the magazine “published a near pornography,” according to a report from the New Light of Myanmar, the government’s official newspaper.

But the editor of “Hnyo,” Ko Oo Swe, told The Associated Press that the question of whether the magazine’s material was sexually arousing depended on “the eyes of the beholder.” Mr. Ko Oo Swe said other magazines have published material deviating from their charters but were not shut down.

“What I want to tell the government is to treat all publishers equally,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Mr. Ko Oo Swe said in local media interviews that his magazine, launched in November, furthers sex education in the country. He denied charges his magazine is as racy as the likes of FHM and Playboy.

Myanmar, which is just getting used to increased freedoms and far lighter censorship after decades of repressive military rule, has little sex education in schools. According to UNAIDS, 220, 000 people in Myanmar, or 0.6% of the population, currently live with HIV in part because of poor education around safe sex practices.

Shibani Mahtani

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