The Problem with Human Rights Discourse and “Freedom” Indicators: The Case of Burma/Myanmar Media

Lisa Brooten


This article details the inadequacies of the widely used Freedom House indices and globally dominant human rights discourse for accurately reflecting the degree of democratic change during two decades of Burmese media development. Drawing on more than 15 years of research and interviews with more than 70 Burmese journalists, activists, and policy makers of various ethnicities, along with analysis of Freedom House reports, the article demonstrates how the most cited indices underestimate the degree of democratic change. Their state centrism blinds these indices to the impact of exile Burmese media, and they fail to recognize transformative functions of media that move beyond the transmission of information. This is dangerous, especially given the need for ethnic reconciliation in this long-troubled country and the current rush to fund media development projects.

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