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December 11, 2019

National interests and controversial issues on freedom of press

Photo: GNLM/Phoe Khwar
Photo: GNLM/Phoe Khwar

By Aung Kyaw Aye Chan

Myanmar’s peaceful change-over to civilian rule which is assumed to have started in 2010 has been a little well over two years in power now. With the support by the majority of the people, the democratically-elected civilian government has been trying to solve the problems—some normal and some critical—after taking power in 2016.
In addition to national peace and reconciliation, Maungtaw conflict in Rakhine State happens to become entangled with human rights and freedom of press.

Freedom of press
Here I would like to present some facts to my readers what I have observed in connection with freedom of press. As it is well known , Myanmar has been gradually struggling for civilian rule of independence and democratic rights from the military dictatorship.
Even if the present situation is not completely satisfactory, it won’t be wrong to say that the present-day human rights and freedom of press are much better than those during last 50 years. In saying so, I would like to provide a lot of evidences.
Only a few days ago the Ministry of Information issued a statement on permission of printing materials and publishing and news agencies, totaling 3898 publishers and owners of news agencies. Three news agencies existed in 2014 and now to the considerable increase of 91 in 2017.
The cancellation of news agencies While the numbers of news agencies in Myanmar has increased, some news agencies in neighbouring countries have been cancelled. The US-backed Radio Free Asia and 19 sub-radio stations in Cambodia were shut down in 2017, leading to a reduction of 30 employees . RFA has been under pressure to pay taxes in retrospect . In the way the Voice of America has been facing taxation problems in retrospect for twenty years. In mid-2017, six RFA correspondents were arrested and they have been in prison up until now in Viet Nam. They were alleged to report on the polluted water released from the Taiwan steelworks in Viet Nam whose waste products reportedly damaged many areas of fishing grounds. In Myanmar some local news agencies have sent false reports to foreign news agencies to tarnish the reputation of our leaders; these reports are found to be inconsistent with journalistic ethics.
I would like to quote some statements issued by RSF( The Reporters without Borders). Myanmar Literary Board was dissolved on 20 August, 2012, thereby raising the position of freedom of press gradually to the position of 131 in 2017 and indicating more press freedom in the country.
A decline in freedom of press in the whole Southeast Asia Freedom of press in the whole Southeast Asia has declined, according to the article by Dominic Faulder in Nikkei Asian Review. In his article freedom of press is divided into three categories: complete freedom, partial or no freedom at all. No freedom of press for 51% of 4.1 billion population in Asia; partial freedom for 44% and 5% for complete freedom of information. Myanmar falls in the category of partial freedom. China stands at 176th position and Laos and Viet Nam stand at 170th and 175th respectively and finally North Korea stands at 180th position.
Freedom of press in ASEAN community has declined considerably: Thailand ranked 66th position in 2002, but now in 142nd position; the Philippines declined from 89th position to 127th position where 92 journalists were killed between 1992 and 2018. According to the statistics compiled the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ), as many as 1278 journalists were killed during the same period in the whole world.

Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe
Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe

A decline in the US
Freedom of press has also declined in the United States where a lot of human rights organization and news agencies are based.
President Donald Trump has attacked the media with harsh words, thereby bringing down from the 17th position to 43rd position, according to the CPJ statistics. Lastly I want to put up the Maungtaw conflict in Rakhine State. In connection with the murder with 10 ARSA terrorists, actions are being taken against 16 soldiers, policemen and villagers from Innden village, Maungtaw District. “ The positive steps taken by the Tatmadaw should be encouraged,” Myanmar representative to the UN told the UN Security Council on 13 February about the real situation in Rakhine State. He also pointed out that even though there are few clashes in the region, the threat of ARSA terrorist group still remains among the local people.
The Rakhine conflict is hard to solve by pointing out violations of human rights and lack of freedom of press because of long and complex historical context. The news report about Inndenm village sent by the two Reuters correspondents tended to have bad blood between race and religion, to tarnish the reputation of Myanmar leaders and without showing due regards to journalistic ethics. It would be wrong to say the press freedom has declined in Myanmar on account of the arrest of two Reuters journalists.
The majority of Myanmar people understand that they have to analyze the Maungtaw conflict not only in the nature of human rights and press freedom but from the geographical neighbourhood. Recent statements by the Russian Embassy revealed that accusations against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi concerning Rakhine conflict
are unjustifiable. Similarly, China, India and ASEAN
Community stand side by side with Myanmar in the disputes. While friendly countries keep standing side by side with our country, Myanmar people should decide what our priorities are.
Freedom of press is visibly seen from the time of abolishing the Literary Scrutiny Board in 2012 to the time of publishing newspapers and journals today. It is truly indicator of freedom of press in Myanmar. By keeping national interests and security properly balanced, Myanmar will continue to struggle against new challenges and obstacles amid its reformation of political process.

Translated by Arakan Sein

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