Wednesday, February 6

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

Burma’s censorship authorities have found new tools to monitor submitted written manuscripts before approval—mirrors and magnifying glasses.

Rangoon-based writers told The Irrawaddy that censors working in the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board office are now equipped with mirrors and magnifying glasses to help them seek out hidden messages in poems, novels, stories and advertisements.

The new tools were introduced following the discovery in a published poem of a clandestine message mocking junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

The first words of each line of the short poem, written by Saw Wai under the title “February 14” and published in the weekly “Love Journal,” made up the message: “Senior General Than Shwe is foolish with power.” Saw Wai was subsequently arrested.

The head of the censorship board, Maj Tint Swe—himself a writer, with the penname Ye Yint Tint Swe—was summoned to a meeting with high-ranking officials, where he had to explain the lapse. Sources say he may soon be fired.

Saw Wai’s ruse was the second of its kind to mock Than Shwe in this way. In July 2007, an advertisement in the English-language semi-official The Myanmar Times newspaper contained a hidden message calling Than Shwe “a killer.”

The advertisement was placed in the paper by a Danish satirical art group posing as "The Board of Islandic Travel Agencies Ewhsnahtrellik and the Danish Industry BesoegDanmark." When read backwards, the Danish-looking word "Ewhsnahtrellik" spelt out "Killer Than Shwe."

A Burmese editor living in Rangoon confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Monday that censors were now using mirrors and magnifying glasses to search for hidden messages in the texts they are required to check before publication.

Editors and publishers say the additional work is slowing up the censorship process. “The censors are even checking cover pages of magazines time and again.”

One Rangoon writer said he now had to submit his manuscripts one month ahead of publication, compared to one week in the past.

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