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E-bandwagon-Bihar parties take fight to ‘virtual media’, following BJP and AAP’s success

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social-media-585481_640Impressed by the tremendous political benefits reaped by BJP and AAP due to high-voltage social media and high-end digital campaigning in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Delhi assembly elections respectively, Bihar parties too are eagerly jumping on to the e-bandwagon.

All the major parties – Janata Dal -United (JD-U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Hindustani Awam Morcha – are making efforts to make their presence felt on the net for the forthcoming Bihar election. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also expected to shift its well oiled cyber machine to Bihar soon.

From interactive graphical representation of the work done by their parties and making promises on Facebook to sending interactive and informative messages on WhatsApp, they are doing it all to woo voters. “It’s the best way to engage the youth and first time voters. We have set up a ‘war room’ to ensure that we remain ahead of our rivals in digital campaigning,” K.C Tyagi, chief spokesperson of JD-U, told IANS over phone.

“We have seen how Prime Minister Narendra Modi quite effectively used the social media and high-tech campaigning in the 2014 elections to ride to power at the centre,” he added. According to Bihar’s information and technology department, an estimated 5 lakh out of the state’s total population of 110 million use the internet on computers while 20 to 30 million use it on mobile phones.

Tyagi says the 2014 general elections changed the way elections were fought in India. Although the tech-savvy campaign brought rich dividents for the BJP, he says it also raised the overall cost of fighting elections.

Abdul Bari Siddiqui of RJD, who is also leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly, says that although the reach of social media among Bihar’s population was limited, yet one cannot “deny it’s positive and long-lasting effect on the public mind.”

Talking on the phone, Siddiqui said digital campaigning involved hiring of tech experts, setting up of media rooms and manning them round-the-clock.

Under the JD-U’s ‘war room’ strategy, 400 trucks equipped with TV sets, music systems, microphones and speakers will move from village to village and showcase the government’s achievements. The personnel manning these vehicles will also interact with villagers and their local representatives to get their ideas and suggestions for Bihar’s development in future.

Flash mobs and street plays are also being planned by JD-U to gain the support of the younger generation, which is expected to play a crucial role in the legislative elections expected to be held in September or October this year.

Parties opposed to the JD-U have started Facebook pages to engage people on the social media in the run-up to the polls.

So apart from the traditional methods like high-pitch sloganeering, colourful buntings, posters and large hoardings to grab the eyeballs of the Bihar electorate, e-campaigning will add more punch to the campaigning by political parties aiming to win a majority in the state assembly.

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News Organizations in Myanmar Receiving Threatening Messages Over Rakhine Coverage

Thar Lun Zaung Htet, editor-in-chief of Khit Thit Media who has received three threatening messages, said the senders are issuing the threats for specific purposes and that news professionals must be cautious about what may happen after they receive such mail.

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Myanmar journalists of the privately owned Eleven Media Group work in the company's newsroom in Yangon, Oct. 12, 2018. RFA

Prominent news organizations in Myanmar have received threatening messages from unknown senders warning them not to refer to the ethnic military the Arakan Army (AA) currently engaged in hostilities with government troops in western Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state as an “insurgent group.”

Fighting between the AA, which is fighting Myanmar forces for greater autonomy in Rakhine state and is supported by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, and Myanmar forces reignited in late 2018 and exploded in early January after Arakan soldiers conducted deadly attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine.

The Myanmar government has labeled the AA a terrorist group and instructed its forces to crush the fighters.

Since April 1, journalists at Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group, 7Day Daily, Mizzima, The VoiceDemocracy Today, and Khit Thit Media have received the threats via social media messengers and email, warning them that they will face mine attacks if they continue to refer to the AA as insurgent group.

The threatening messages say that the AA is not an insurgent group, but an Arakanese army carrying out a revolution for the “Father Nation.”

“The news media needs to stop portraying the Arakan Army incorrectly to misinform the Rakhine public and other ethnic groups,” the messages say. “Otherwise, the news media organization will see damage and we will blow up your newsroom by mine attacks.”

Khin Saw Wai, a lower house lawmaker from the Arakan National Party (ANP) who represents Rakhine’s Rathedaung constituency, told RFA’s Myanmar Service in an earlier report that the AA had sent envelopes with bullets to village authorities in Rakhine state.

Kyaw Zaw Lin, chief editor of Eleven Media Group, said he reported the incident to the police and other authorities when he received a threat.

“We have never experienced such kinds of threats coming from an armed group,” he said. “We have reported them to the relevant authorities. We alerted international organizations working on press freedom. We also filed a case with the police force.”

Myint Kyaw, joint secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, cautioned journalists to refrain from taking actions that could give more attention to the senders, who remain unknown.

“I agree that we should report this to law enforcement officers such as the police force,” he said. “We should take that kind of action. But these are threats coming from an unidentified source. As a media council, if we take action further than that, it will amplify the source’s message. We might be realizing the source’s real goal if all media and authorities take the threats seriously.”

“As for our media council, as an intermediary between the press and law enforcement authorities, we have a plan to issue alerts on the issue to all parties concerned,” he added.

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“This fake news was intentionally spread to instigate fear among the public,” he said. “Because we have had such experiences in the past, we must question what is happening now. It was not a single incident. It happened multiple times between 2012 and 2014.” Pixabay

Just like in 2012

Kyaw Min Swe, a consultant for the Myanmar journal The Voice who recently received a threat, recalled the allegations of “fake news” that inflamed Buddhist-Muslim communal conflict in religiously and ethnically divided Rakhine in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead and displaced more than 140,000, saying that he is suspicious about the real intention of those who are sending threats to the media.

Religiously-motivated riots that started in Kyauk Ni Maw village quickly led to murder and arson amid widespread public fear that was intensified by the spread of fake news on social media, he said.

“This fake news was intentionally spread to instigate fear among the public,” he said. “Because we have had such experiences in the past, we must question what is happening now. It was not a single incident. It happened multiple times between 2012 and 2014.”

“Given the examples and incidents that occurred in this country in the past, I suspect that it is true with the [current] case too,” he said. “I suspect this is an attempt to instigate a public sensation.”

Thar Lun Zaung Htet, editor-in-chief of Khit Thit Media who has received three threatening messages, said the senders are issuing the threats for specific purposes and that news professionals must be cautious about what may happen after they receive such mail.

“[Those] behind these threats must [belong to] an organization with specific purposes,” he said. “They seem to be very knowledgeable and well organized. I see this as only a first step.”

“We don’t know what the second and third steps will be,” he said. “There could be many possibilities, given the fact that the rule of law is very weak in this country.”

Thar Lun Zaung Htet also said that actual attacks could occur, putting the safety of journalists at risk given current hostile attitudes towards the media by a pro-government public.

“They could be murdered, physically attacked, arrested, or get into trouble anytime,” he said. “I view this threat as the first step of what could be coming. Not long after this, the second or third steps will come. Journalists must be extra cautious about what they are reporting.”

AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied that his outfit had sent these threats to the media and said it would conduct a probe into the matter.

“We strongly denounce the intimidation of the media by sending them threats,” he told RFA. “This is a very cowardly act [by someone] who is using our identity because they are too scared to reveal their own.”

“As an organization, we will conduct an investigation and take necessary actions to track down the [senders],” he added.

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Supporters of the Myanmar military have also sent threats via email to four news organizations, including Radio Free Asia, demanding that they stand with the military. The messages also included death threats for journalists who are seen as siding with the AA. Pixabay

“The AA doesn’t have any reason to send such threats to the news media,” Khine Thukha said. “We want you to know these are not ours.”

Support only the military

Supporters of the Myanmar military have also sent threats via email to four news organizations, including Radio Free Asia, demanding that they stand with the military. The messages also included death threats for journalists who are seen as siding with the AA.

The same message carried in the emails was posted by a Myanmar military supporter group under the name Patriot Soldiers Group.

A message received by RFA tried to influence RFA’s editorial policy, demanding that the media to show support for “the only military” in the country in reporting on the Rakhine conflict and not report with bias favoring the AA.

It also warned that those who failed to comply with the demand would face the same fate as Ko Ni, a prominent human rights attorney and advisor to the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was assassinated in January 2017.

Also Read: Unexpected Deaths of Innocent Civilians: Fearful Villagers in Rakhine Fleeing From Their Homes

Some have speculated that Ko Ni was targeted for being an outspoken critic of anti-Muslim attitudes held by Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalists and the country’s powerful military.

Major General Tun Tun Nyi from the Myanmar military’s committee denied that army officials were behind the threats.

“Sending anonymous emails that contain threats is a criminal offense, and whoever is doing it shouldn’t have done it,” he told RFA. “I think the sender is trying to implicate the military and further complicate issues that are already complicated.” (RFA)