Polls in 2010 shape Burma’s political and media landscape23 January 2010All eyes are on Burma as it heads to national elections in 2010. Even asadvocates, activists, and citizens of Burma debate whether or how to participatein the exercise, one clear consensus is that Burmese media—both inside the countryand those exiled in neighboring countries and elsewhere—must be supported in theirefforts to educate Burmese citizens as well as monitor the credibility andintegrity of the polls, or potential lack thereof.To be sure, with the junta's voiding of the elections in 1990 and the iron gripwith which the country, its citizens, and their media have been managed sincethen, the upcoming polls do not inspire much optimism. Hardly anybody would callthe exercise free, not even with the cautious support of western governments andASEAN. Meanwhile, the main opposition group, the National League of Democracy(NLD) which was denied its clear victory in 1990, had announced that it willboycott the elections if the junta continues to keep Aung San Suu Kyi and otherpolitical prisoners detained. All the same, some political parties have expressedtheir intention to participate—from administration groups, to the opposition, eventhird force organizations made up of activists from the 1988 uprising.All the same, without a clear and unfettered role for independent media coveragebefore, during, and after the elections, all will be for naught.If 2009 is anything to go by, there is indeed every reason to keep expectationsreal.In May last year the junta ordered strict control of all news coverage of thefirst anniversary of Cyclone Nargis' devastation of the Irrawady delta. CycloneNargis, which pummeled Burma on 2 May 2008, left about 140,000 dead or missing and2.4 million people devastated.The censorship board ordered that coverage of the anniversary should have apositive angle. It also restricted and banned stories that highlighted the reliefefforts of international and local non-governmental organizations.Related to this, there was a rash of arrests and intimidations of journalists,bloggers, and activists in 2009, all having to do either with the anniversary ofCyclone Nargis, or that of the Saffron Revolution in 2007.Going after bloggersA blogger was arrested in November 2009 and remains detained. Prior to that, poetand layout designer for the Rangoon-based "Ahlinkar Wutyee Journal" Khant MinHtet, was picked up by the police on 22 October 2009.Blogger and former journalist Pai Soe Oo, 23, was arrested on 28 October 2009. Twodays earlier, Thant Zin Soe, the Burmese translator-editor of "Foreign Affairs"weekly was nabbed by authorities. The two are members of "Lin Let Kye" ("ShiningStar"), a volunteer group that helps victims of Cyclone Nargis. Also arrested werefive of their colleagues.On 1 December 2009, authorities released Khant Min Htet, Pai Soe Oo and Thant ZinSoe and other Cyclone Nargis volunteers.During the same period, blogger Win Zaw Naing, 24, was arrested and now faces apossible 15-year jail sentence for posting pictures and reports about theSeptember 2007 Saffron Revolution. He is detained in the Rangoon district ofKyauktada, where he has not been allowed to see a lawyer.