Burma Press Limits Tested by Arakan Violence

Burmese journals covering news of the Arakan conflict. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Communal violence in western Burma that left more than 60 people dead has also posed a challenge for the newfound freedom of the country’s press, testing the limits of free speech and good taste.

The publisher of the Hlyat Tabyet, or Snapshot, weekly journal said Friday he has been summoned to court to face criminal charges for publishing material that allegedly could induce the public to commit acts of public mischief.

He said the court summons for Monday did not detail the charges but could be related to a photo of the body of an ethnic Arakanese girl — with face blurred out — who was raped and murdered by three Muslim men.

The crime fueled this month’s mob violence between the Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingya communities in Arakan State, which left at least 62 people dead, thousands of homes burned down and tens of thousands of people displaced.

Myat Khine, Hlyat Tabyet’s editor and publisher, said the government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division had already on June 11 suspended the journal’s license for publishing the photograph, which the authorities deemed inappropriate and capable of inciting unrest. It has now missed two issues.

Lawsuits involving the media are a new development in Burma under President Thein Sein’s government, which has loosened some restrictions on the press as part of its recent reforms after five decades of repressive military rule.

Under the previous military regime, strict media censorship determined what was fit to print and violators faced arbitrary punishment and severe penalties.

“I printed a photograph that had been circulating for a couple of days and after the communal clashes had already broken out,” Myat Khine said. “The photograph in my journal did not cause any further violence.”

A few days after the journal published the photo, the chief minister of Rangoon Region told editors and reporters to avoid writing reports that could instigate further violence. Myint Swe warned that anyone who violates laws against undermining state security or spreading news that could cause disorder could face jail terms of up to seven years.

Such prosecutions would “stifle freedom of expression and a free press,” said Myat Khine.

In recent months, a government ministry filed a defamation suit against a weekly publication called The Voice over an article about misappropriation and irregularities in four ministries’ financial accounts. The article cited a report from the auditor general’s office to the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

Another weekly publication, The Modern, had faced a defamation case over an article that alleged truck drivers had bribed engineers at the Construction Ministry to let them use a certain bridge even though their vehicles exceeded the weight limit. One of the engineers sued the publication, but the two sides settled after the magazine printed a correction.

3 Responses to Burma Press Limits Tested by Arakan Violence

  1. The issues are obvious. And a practical solution is better than a theoretical one. The government gives the publication a lecture about responsible citizenship. If this becomes a continued problem, the government addresses its citizens directly about the issue. The government doesn’t have to make excuses for taking the moral high ground.

    And the government should flatly tell the publication that, if it wants its reporters to have normal access to the government, that the government will have to be reasonably happy with them. In the past, most of the local news was from outside sources. In the future, many of the newsworthy items will come from the government itself. The publication can either get this news while it’s fresh, or it will have to report second hand stories. You either have access to the original sources, or you don’t.

    A free press gets limited by its moral responsibility to society. Most governments use informal mechanisms of this type to keep things sane.

  2. Myat Khine, Hlyat Tabyet’s editor and publisher, is right that when she issued that picture the riots as well the Taunguk slaughter kill of 11 Myanmar Citizen by Taunguk people happend already,- means that her picture did not direkt could have inflicted the events, ( where anyhow on the other hand it looks more clear that many of these events were fabricated from someone in the back well arranged
    and Rakhine people were stupid enough to be missused as ginnipiggs and the security first helt back until the fire pushed the smoke away and North Rakhine was burning ).
    But than what was her reason to have this picture in at all,- it was not a NEWS anymore,– and in 16 years I never saw such a picture published in a magazine. One could guess that she or one had other thoughts behind.
    There is sure a chance that as the young Rakhine and the grimm looking Buddhist Monks which demonstarted hate slogans on 9.6. in Yangon would get more back up for their Nazi style activities at and around Shwedagon Pagoda and stir up more in Yangon once they see it in a Magazine.
    Out of History , What was in Myanmar in the Magazines was the law and true – over 40 years.
    But if Myat Khine must face justice for the picture than every one which printed and distributed the same picture in Taunguk on 3.6.2012 which really resulted in the murder – killing against 11 Myanmar citizen from upper Myanmar must face exactely the same law and punishment,– That must of course
    include all Taunguk head of Police, Intelligence, Goverment , you name it, that really was a killer.
    Go for it and put these Taunguk top people in charge and on same Lawsuits.

  3. what is………….

    No Human Right
    where Media
    No World News
    you also die

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