Access Denied

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Standing BuddhaWe all know about the Great Firewall of China, how about the lesser known Firewall of Burma? We’ve taken a lot of criticism at Lonely Planet for publishing a guidebook to the country, officially known as Myanmar today. We published the first edition of our Burma guide back in 1979, I wrote the first three editions and have maintained a strong interest in the book and the country ever since. We’re up to edition 10.

In the late ‘90s supporters of sanctions against Burma accused us of supporting the country’s military government by publishing our book. No tourists should visit the country was their demand.

The gigantic 129-metre-high (31 storeys) Bodhi Tataung standing Buddha image near Than- boddhay, north of Mandalay.

We disagreed and we’ve always explained in the many editions of our book how visitors can make sure their expenditure supports everyday Burmese, not the military government. I strongly believe that visiting Burma is a good thing for all sorts of reason. And my recent trip to Burma doubly reinforced that view.

Back in Burma I checked out what websites visitors could access and which ones were off limits. Here are 10 popular websites, 5 of which will come up ‘access denied’ if you try to click on them in a Burma internet cafe:

• – well you know about us.
• – the English guidebook publisher which insists they will have nothing to do with Burma and discourages tourism to the country
•  – the organisation that fights for the rights of people oppressed by bad governments, like the one in Burma
•  – a UK-based responsible tourism operation which has heavily criticised Lonely Planet for publishing a Burma guidebook
• – video clips ranging from popular entertainment to hard-hitting political commentary
• – the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the government newspaper The New Light of Myanmar runs a line in every edition accusing the BBC of ‘sowing hatred among the people’
• – the American 24-hour international news channel, BBC-World’s main competitor
• – the furthest right of the British ‘quality’ daily newspapers.
• – and the one furthest to the left, or the most liberal if you wish
• – the highly regarded international newsmagazine which is often very critical of the Burma regime

So which 5 can you access in Burma and which 5 are banned?

Available: Rough Guides, Tourism Concern, BBC, The Guardian and The Economist
Banned: Amnesty International, You Tube, CNN, The Daily Telegraph and … Lonely Planet

Some thoughts:  Some internet cafes use internet proxies to get around the government firewall, I could get to more sites in some places than others. Other newspapers I tried – The Independent, The Times (both London) and the New York Times were all available. The French language and Italian language Lonely Planet websites were available. Both CNN and BBC-World are available on TV, even though CNN’s website comes up ‘access denied.’  In our guidebook we list 6 websites as good sources of information on Burma, 5 of them are not available in the country.