Surrend: Myanmar Update

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

For more on this story, see the ArtofthePrank.com July 25, 2007 post about Surrend’s culture jamming activities in Myanmar (Burma).


From the Democratic Voice of Burma:

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Surrend defends Myanmar Times ad as fallout hits Rangoon
by Ye Thu and Jessicah Curtis
July 26, 2007

(DVB)-The Danish satirical art group Surrend yesterday defended its decision to place a hidden message calling Than Shwe a ‘killer' in a Myanmar Times advertisement, as fallout from the incident hit the media industry in Rangoon.

Reports emerged yesterday that a number of Myanmar Times staff had been taken to the office of the press scrutiny board and interrogated about the ad in the early hours of Tuesday morning and that journalists from a variety of other publications feared a fresh censorship crackdown.

DVB also received reports saying that many shops in Rangoon had been forced to take the issue of the newspaper off the shelves while others had become too scared to stock it. Two staff from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division have reportedly been sacked over the incident.

An ad planted by Surrend appeared in the latest English-language issue of the weekly Myanmar Times on Monday containing the word "Ewhsnahtrellik", which was later revealed by the group to be ‘killer Than Shwe' spelt backwards.

Surrend founder Jan Egesborg told DVB in an interview yesterday that while the Burmese military's reaction was unfortunate, it was entirely the government's responsibility.

"We knew that there would be some reaction from the regime . . . As a satirical artist you go for the mighty ones and you know that there often will be a harsh reaction," Egesborg said.

"Of course we are very sorry for the people . . . but if [the authorities] do something like that it says something about the regime."

A number of journalists working for newspapers and magazines in Rangoon said yesterday that news of the incident had spread like wildfire through the former capital, causing serious concern over a potential media crackdown.

The publisher of one weekly newspaper said that the censorship board was likely to react to the "prank" by more closely monitoring the contents of publications, making it harder for politically sensitive material to slip through.

"It is quite clear that the authorities are now very upset. We fear they are going to lay even more limitations on our works," the publisher said on condition of anonymity.

A former reporter from Rangoon said that while the intention behind Surrend's decision to place the ad was likely honourable, their tactics would not be effective in Burma because of the nature of the censorship regime.

"Normally this would be effective . . . but this would only be good if the Myanmar Times could be in a position to defend themselves to the government and say ‘We didn't place this ad. It's not our fault'," the reporter said.

"But this is impossible in Burma's case. In this situation [the Myanmar Times] will be forced to support the government and this is bad."