YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military junta rang in the New Year on Wednesday by dramatically raising the annual fee for TV satellite dishes in an apparent move to limit access to the foreign news channels that beamed in global criticism of its recent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The license fee has rocketed from US$5 to $800 - an unaffordable sum to most people in Myanmar. It is equivalent to about three times the annual salary of a public school teacher.
The new fee was imposed without warning and discovered by residents who went to renew their licenses Wednesday.
Most middle class homes and shops use satellite dishes to tune into foreign sports events, soap operas and to circumvent the junta's tightly controlled state media.
"The government is trying to shut our ears and eyes," said Thant Zin, a 57-year-old civil servant. "The military regime does not want us to know the truth about our country."
Post offices, which handle the license renewals, informed residents that the deadline for the new fee was Jan. 30, after which satellite owners would have to pay a $3 fine to renew licenses.
An official at Myanmar Post and Telecom said he was not authorized to comment on the price rise, but on condition of anonymity said it was meant to discourage people from watching foreign news channels.
Many residents said they would be forced to give up satellite TV, while others said they would risk fines and secretly keep their dishes in place.
A sudden hike in fuel prices last year led to protests that ballooned into anti-government street demonstrations, which were brutally crushed by the military in September.
Foreign news channels and banned programing like the Democratic Voice of Burma - a channel run by dissidents out of Norway - were the main source of information for people in Myanmar during the crackdown.
The junta was reportedly furious by the images beamed around the world and inside the country of its troops beating Buddhist monks who led the protests.