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How Myanmar is cracking down on journalists


BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military-controlled government is cracking down on coverage of mass protests, raiding media companies and detaining dozens of journalists since its Feb. 1 coup, including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press.

The crackdown comes as the military has escalated violence against mass protests and as independent media continue to cover the arrests and shootings by troops in cities across Myanmar. In some instances, journalists are using social media to get the information out.

How has the media landscape in Myanmar changed since the coup? Here’s a look:

How is the government suppressing news?

Authorities raided the offices of Kamayut Media on Monday, detaining its co-founder, Han Thar Nyein and editor-in-chief, Nathan Maung. Witnesses said seven military trucks were involved in the raid, according to a member of Han Thar Nyein’s family. The military also raided the offices of Mizzima News.

Local newspapers are displayed in a newspaper stall in Yangon, Myanmar. The front page of Standard Time Daily, right, reads "Meeting of National Defence and Security Council held in Naypyitaw."
Local newspapers are displayed in a newspaper stall in Yangon, Myanmar. The front page of Standard Time Daily, right, reads “Meeting of National Defence and Security Council held in Naypyitaw.”
AP

A day earlier, five local outlets — Mizzima, DVB, Khit Thit Media, Myanmar Now and 7Day News — were banned from broadcasting or providing any information on any media platform or using any technology after their licenses were canceled, state broadcaster MRTV reported. All had covered the protests extensively and often livestreamed video.

Myanmar Now, an independent news service, reported that police broke down the door of its office Monday and seized computers, printers and parts of the newsroom’s data server. It cited unnamed witnesses and showed a photo of CCTV footage. But it said the office had been evacuated in late January.

Human rights groups an journalism organizations have condemned the attacks on freedom of the press.

How are independent media outlets responding?

Thein Zaw in Yangon, Myanmar.
Thein Zaw in Yangon, Myanmar.
AP

For now, they are vowing to press on despite the risks.

“What is certain is that we will not stop covering the enormous crimes the regime has been committing throughout the country,” said Swe Win, Myanmar Now’s editor-in-chief.

Mizzima, another privately owned, independent local news outlet, put out a statement on its website saying it “continues to fight against the military coup and for the restoration of democracy and human rights” using various online and multimedia platforms. Other outlets also still reported on protests Tuesday. Some media organizations are trying to operate from abroad.

What kind of media are still legally operating in Myanmar?

A man looks at a newspaper from February 2, 2021, which reports "1 year of State of Emergency and Acting President transferred Power to Military Chief" on the front page, in Yangon, Myanmar.
A man looks at a newspaper from February 2, 2021, which reports “1 year of State of Emergency and Acting President transferred Power to Military Chief” on the front page, in Yangon, Myanmar.
AP

Myanmar seems to be reverting to its old system where officially sanctioned media are entirely state-controlled, as they were before August 2012. Even before the coup, under the military-dominated, quasi-civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, journalists faced arrest and harassment for reporting on sensitive topics such as abuses against its Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were given seven-year prison sentences, but later pardoned, for trying to investigate a massacre of Rohingya civilians. Myanmar ranked 139th of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 World Press Freedom index. Journalists often have faced criminal prosecution for online defamation.

The English-language Myanmar Times announced it had suspended all publications for three months beginning Feb. 21. That move came after many of its staff quit to protest the paper’s agreement to follow a junta order not to use the word “coup” to describe the military takeover.

Another state-controlled newspaper, the Global New Light of Myanmar, is still publishing. Other state media include the Myanmar News Agency and army-controlled Myawaddy TV.

What are the longer-term ramifications?

Riot police officers hold down a protester as they disperse protesters in Tharkata Township on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar March 6, 2021.
Riot police officers hold down a protester as they disperse protesters in Tharkata Township on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar March 6, 2021.
AP

Suppressing all reporting would require a complete blackout of all internet and satellite communications. Apart from the legal and human rights implications, that would be a huge setback for the country’s economy. Myanmar’s businesses are highly reliant on the internet and on digital platforms like Facebook, having developed quickly in the past few years after decades of relative isolation under previous military governments.

So far, the junta has chosen to shut down internet links at night, hindering but not completely stopping such communications. Because modern businesses rely heavily on the internet and the free-flow of communication and information, the military’s actions are further damaging a business environment already devastated by the coup and its aftermath.



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