Muzzling the Media: News and Information in Closed Societies

Watch a video recording of the event below.

Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders have consistently ranked Burma, Cuba, and North Korea among the most repressive environments for press freedom in the world. Governments in these states have held a monopoly on information, restricting or tightly controlling access to foreign media and banning or heavily censoring private domestic media. Freedom of expression activists have been forced to use a variety of methods and strategies to challenge the regime’s control over news and information, including radio, satellite TV, print publications, CD/VCDs, flash drives, and social media. In the past year in Burma, however, political reforms have brought about an opening in the media landscape, particularly regarding censorship laws. Panelists discussed the media sectors in Cuba and North Korea and creative mechanisms for working within such restrictive environments, as well as lessons that can be drawn from the nascent transition in Burma. They examined the possibilities for pluralizing news and information flows and widening the scope of commentary, debate, and dissent.

The Center for International Media Assistance, the Latin America and Caribbean Program, and the Asia Program at the National Endowment for Democracy

present a panel discussion on

Muzzling the Media:

News and Information in Closed Societies


Aung Zaw


Irrawaddy (via Skype)

Shanthi Kalathil

Georgetown University

Nathaniel Kretchun



Hugo Landa



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

About the speakers:

Aung Zaw is the editor of the Irrawaddy magazine, a leading source of reliable news, information, and analysis on Burma and Southeast Asia. He launched the publication in 1993 with a group of Burmese journalists living in exile in Thailand and, in 2000, established an online version providing daily current news on Burma. A student activist, Aung Zaw joined the 1988 democracy uprising in Rangoon and was arrested. Because of his continued activism, Aung Zaw went into hiding and eventually fled to Thailand. There, he wrote political commentaries for the Nation and Bangkok Post. From 1997 to 2005, Aung Zaw worked as a stringer for the Washington, DC-based Radio Free Asia. A recognized and respected source of information about current issues in Burma and the region, he also writes for the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Time, and Global Asia, among several other newspapers and magazines in Europe and North America. Aung Zaw is a 2010 laureate of the Prince Claus Award.

Shanthi Kalathil is an international development consultant and author. She focuses on the intersection of development, democracy, and international security, with a particular emphasis on governance, transparency, global norms, and China. Kalathil is co-author of Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule, a widely cited work that examined the role of the Internet in promoting political transition in eight authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes. Over the past decade, Kalathil has advised the U.S. government, international organizations, and civil society on the policy and practical aspects of support for civil society, traditional media, and new media as a function of democracy and good governance. Previously a senior democracy fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development, she is currently a non-resident associate with the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, where she is editing a working paper series on diplomacy, development, and security in the information age. Her most recent publications include Developing Independent Media as an Institution of Accountable Governance, published by the World Bank. Kalathil is a former Hong Kong-based staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal Asia. A member of CIMA’s Advisory Council, she wrote Scaling a Changing Curve: Traditional Media Development and the New Media for CIMA in 2008.

Nathaniel Kretchun is the associate director of the East Asia team at InterMedia, which he joined in 2009. There, he manages quantitative and qualitative research projects in North Korea, Cambodia, and China (with Uyghur populations). He previously worked on HIV/AIDS issues and nongovernmental organization development with the Grassroots China Initiative at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Kretchun holds a master’s degree in international economics and China/Korea studies from SAIS, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Oklahoma. He also studied at Yonsei University in Seoul and Fudan University in Shanghai. He speaks Korean and Mandarin Chinese.

Hugo Landa is the director of CubaNet News, Inc. Founded in 1994, CubaNet is a resource for independent journalists in Cuba to write about social issues, including political repression, food shortages, housing, unemployment, and poorly-equipped schools. As director, Landa oversees efforts to provide information, coaching, and technical and humanitarian assistance to independent journalists in Cuba, as well as to strengthen independent reporting about the situation in Cuba for both Cuban and international audiences. His main challenge is working in a tightly controlled media environment in which “independent,” pro-government blogs by private citizens and official journalists have multiplied in recent years. Landa came to the United States from Cuba in 1980 and has lived in Miami since 1987.

Lynn Lee is a program officer for Asia at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she oversees the grant portfolio for democracy and human rights programs in North Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, and Asia regional. Previously a senior project manager at InterMedia Survey Institute, she managed research projects for major media organizations broadcasting radio and TV programming to Asia such as Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC, and carried out a two-year evaluation of U.S. Department of State-funded international nongovernmental organizations working on rule of law, civil society support, and free access to information in China. She earned her doctorate in development studies from Sussex University and master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.