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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)

Next Story

Venezuela’s Independent Media Decimates by Country’s Years-Long Crisis

"It was a course we couldn't get away from," Jorge Makriniotis, manager at the 75-year-old El Nacional

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Venezuelas, Media, Crisis
FILE - The General Manager of Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional Jorge Makriniotis speaks during an interview with the AFP, at its printing press in Caracas, June 14, 2019. VOA

Starved of advertising revenue and battling a stranglehold on the newspaper industry by the government, Venezuela’s independent media have been decimated by the country’s years-long crisis — with many migrating online to survive.

“It was a course we couldn’t get away from,” Jorge Makriniotis, manager at the 75-year-old El Nacional, told AFP.

The newspaper ran its last physical edition — which had already dropped from 72 to just 16 pages — on December 13 last year.

Like many other former print media, it is only available on the internet now.

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FILE – A woman buys printed newspapers at a kiosk in Caracas, Venezuela, July 3, 2019. VOA

In 2013, Venezuela’s socialist government created a state-run company to control the import and distribution of paper.

Carlos Correa, director of the Espacio Publico non-governmental organization, said the move created “discriminatory dynamics” that saw pro-regime media favored — while others were starved of printing paper, and advertising revenue.

Since then, 58 daily newspapers have ceased circulation, Correa says.

“There’s never been an official response” to the claims from independent media, said Gisela Carmona, the director of El Impulso — one of the papers that has migrated online, requiring an investment of more than a million dollars.

Also Read- Scientist Turned Chef Yunan Yang Ditches Lab to Experiment with Food

After 100 years in print, the newspaper disappeared from the streets in February 2018, having received no paper for 12 months.

Beyond controlling paper supply, critics accuse the Venezuelan government of oppressing dissenting media voices across the board.

The national union of press workers has denounced a “systematic policy” of asphyxiation as dozens of independent radio and television stations also closed.

“Over the past years, the Government has attempted to impose a communicational hegemony by enforcing its own version of events and creating an environment that curtails independent media,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a report on Venezuela earlier this month.

Venezuelas, Media, Crisis
Starved of advertising revenue and battling a stranglehold on the newspaper industry by the government, Venezuela’s independent media have been decimated. Pixabay

One example from 2018 saw El Nacional lose a case brought by Diosdado Cabello, widely regarded as the most powerful regime figure after President Nicolas Maduro, for having published drug-trafficking allegations made against him in the Spanish press.

The economic crisis had a major impact on the media too, as on all businesses.

Five years of recession and rampant hyperinflation — which the International Monetary Fund expects to reach a staggering 10 million per cent this year — have decimated advertising revenues.

Carminda Marquez opened a kiosk in Caracas 18 years, selling dozens of newspapers and other publications.

Also Read- Support for U.S. President Donald Trump Increases Slightly among Republicans

“Now I sell three or four,” said the 80-year-old.

Regional newspaper Panorama, which served Venezuela’s second city Maracaibo, struggled on until May 14 when “a perfect storm” of massive power cuts finally sounded it’s physical death knell, its editorial director Maria Ines Delgado told AFP.

Panorama never had to lay off any journalists as one by one they resigned and left for foreign shores.

“Every time we replaced one, another left,” Delgado said from a near-empty editorial room.

Like El Impulso, Panorama is now fed by banner advertising.

The move online has not solved independent media’s myriad problems, though, least of all the ability to reach readers.

Between frequent power outages, patchy internet and the second slowest connectivity in Latin America — after landlocked Paraguay — readers have trouble loading pages, especially on smartphones.

“We know nothing any more,” complained Belkis Nava, who used to read Panorama.

Despite the difficulties, some journalists have launched new media directly on the internet, such as El Pitazo.

Specializing in investigative journalism — it won the prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize awarded by Spanish newspaper El Pais this year — El Pitazo supported itself through a 2017 crowdfunding campaign, director Cesar Batiz told AFP.

However, like other news websites, El Pitazo has come under cyberattack — four times over two years.

Before the first attack in 2017, El Pitazo had 110,000 visits a day. Traffic has since dropped by more than half, and 65 percent of that comes from abroad.

“People aren’t receiving information,” said Melanio Escobar, the director of the Redes Ayuda (Network Help) NGO. (VOA)