Govt Bans Time Magazine Issue, Raising Concerns Among Local Media

Time magazine July 1 cover labeling U Wirathu “The Face of Buddhist Terror” caught the attention of many Burmese publications, some of which disapproved of the cover. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma’s government on Wednesday announced that it is banning Time magazine Asia’s July 1st issue because of controversy in the country over its cover, which features a photo of nationalist monk U Wirathu with the headline “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”

“To prevent the occurrence of racial and religious conflict, the Central Management Committee for Emergency Periods has announced in the name of public interest not to allow sales, reproduction, distribution or possession of ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’ article from Time’s July 1 issue,” said a statement in government newspaper The New Light of Myanmar.

“We have found that Time’s coverage can cause misunderstandings and jeopardize the interfaith trust-building that the government is trying to implement,” it said.

Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that he had initiated the action against Time by raising concerns over the article with the President-led committee, which was created in late March to address inter-communal unrest.

On Tuesday, Inwa Publications, the Burmese distributor of Time, had already said it would scrap sales of its 600 copies of Time, due to local reactions to the cover story. The firm’s manager Maung Maung Lwin said “that, as Buddhists, we should not distribute the July 1st issue of Time magazine.”

Daniel Kile, a spokesperson for Time Inc., told The Irrawaddy in a reaction from New York that the company stood by the cover article.

“TIME’s international cover story is a thoughtful, well-reported piece that shows the presence in Myanmar of an extremist movement that associates itself with Buddhism,” he wrote in an email. “TIME is pleased by the debate and discussion this important piece has raised.”

Time magazine Asia’s cover story explores the rise of aggressive, nationalist teachings among Buddhist monks in Burma and other parts of Asia, such as Sri Lanka, and the role of radical monks like U Wirathu in instigating unrest between groups of different faiths.

U Wirathu leads the so-called ‘969’ campaign, which urges Buddhists to shun Burma’s Muslim minority communities and to support only Buddhist-owned businesses. It has been accused of stirring up bloody inter-communal violence in Burma during the past year.

Burma’s government — made up predominantly by Buddhist politicians and officials — has been accused of failing to act against the anti-Muslim attacks that have left about 250 people dead and more than 100,000 displaced. Human rights groups allege it has actively supported the violence.

Time’s cover has offended many in Burma because they feel it couples the country’s Buddhist tradition and its revered monks with terror and violence.

On Wednesday, members of the Myanmar Press Council decried the ban on Time’s article, adding that the role of the Central Management Committee for Emergency Periods in influencing media freedom was troubling.

“Now, [the committee] took this decision, it seems they have the right to do so. This is really worrisome for press freedom,” said Thiha Saw, the chief editor of the weekly Open Journal. “It appears as if the committee is going to handle this issue without involvement of the Ministry of Information and the Myanmar Press Council.”

Thiha Saw said however, that he disapproved of Time magazine’s cover story, citing some of the same reasons that the government used to justify its ban.

“The writing style of the author not only hurts Buddhism but also instigates [inter-communal] violence,” he said, “We cannot just blame U Wirathu. There is an impression that the present conflict is only led by monks, but someone else is behind it.”

Thiha Saw also said that the views of moderate Burmese monks had not been adequately represented in Time’s story, adding “it’s not good to write one-sidedly.”

Myint Kyaw, a US-educated journalist and media trainer, said the government’s ban was pointless as Time’s article would not impact Burma’s communal tensions. Officials concerned about inter-communal violence, he said, would do better to direct their attention towards curbing anti-Muslim attacks and reining in the divisive 969 movement.

“Instead of capturing the culprits in the violence, they are exaggerating this [Time article] issue. That’s because issuing an order is easy, but those who destabilize local communities have not been identified,” Myint Kyaw said.

“Have they heard what is being preached at the 969 sermons? Those sermons have been instigating [violence].”

11 Responses to Govt Bans Time Magazine Issue, Raising Concerns Among Local Media

  1. I think the government decision to ban the Time’s July 1 distribution in Yangon is both unwise and foolish. For one thing the distribution is only 600, a very insignificant number. I am aware of multiplication of the content in Myanmar news media. But that is just in the game, and the name of the game is free journalism in a free, democratic Myanmar. U Ye Tut’s initiative proves that the President’s administration is occupied by assistants of undemocratic “intellectuals”. It does not only stem the controversy, it also forces a wedge in the cracks and encouraged the mistrust on the government – why don’t they curb on the instigators and the organization and persons who were actually responsible for the riots and arson? Doesn’t the Government know who the culprits really are, or are knowingly afraid to take immediate and lawfully firm actions?
    Let me, for one, plead with Mr President: let us scrap this junk of stricture on national freedom. Myanmars are not naive, and unappreciative of good management when they see one, It is about time you thought Myanmar people as capable of making their own right judgement, given freedom of thought and expression, and action (a decisive factor in ballots).

  2. Thank you very much The Irrawaddynews to take positive role to condemn The Time Magazine’s cover of Most Ven.U. Wirathu with the headline”The face of Buddhist Terror” I really appreciate your dynamic role.Thanks again for your right time and right action.

  3. What kind of opportunistic henchman and backstabber is that MYINT KYAUW ?
    Ugh! Disgusting !

  4. So U Thein Sein’s government has been unmasked that it isn’t a democratic government after all. Please mark my words: Burma will quickly feel the consequences of its government having been in association with a psychopathic person.

  5. I strongly believe that Buddhist is peaceful religion and violent act of some monks and people so call nationalists does not represent the true nature of Buddhism and nationalism.They are anarchy and undermining the freedom.

  6. You don’t shoot the messager . . . welcome to democracy.

  7. Before making comments on the time’s report,first I try to see what the Burmese authority and Burmese civil society men are saying. Thiha Saw said there is someone else behind the present conflict. But who is it? I don’t think he knows any answer because it is simply and solely the terrorist Buddhist monks. The government has banned the magazine and again proved how scared they are in face of truth. Why are you so scared if the message is true? Actually the government has been the backup of wirathu gang. I always used the word “Buddhist terrorist” only to point at some culprit Buddhists in Burma who are led by wirathu. Irrawady even didn’t publish my comments where I used these words. But what would you say now? I demand answers from some very vocal pro-burmese-buddhist commenters like Burmese freedom fighter,German traveler and some others. Can you now at least smell bin laden in your monasteries?

    • @ 1 man army
      You live up to your name ‘1 man army’ !!
      Yes, I always will be a vocal pro-Burmese Buddhists commentator as I can understand their psychological situation well, especially in Rakhine State. But, believe it or not, also ‘Islamic thinking and feelings’ are VERY familiar to me: I lived with Muslims on the grass-roots for many years. Unfortunately too many (nice) Muslims are dominated by (too many) fanatic hardliners. They have organized Islam like a fascistic-religious movement. That reminds me of Nazi Germany. And that is what I dislike. Therefore I vehemently oppose FANATIC-MILITANT ISLAM which also has gained a foothold in Myanmar. I perhaps see that more clearly and understand a bit better than many other foreigners, especially westerners. Not a few of them are very naive and have no idea how sophisticated Islamic tactics are, incl. propaganda and rhetoric.
      But many Buddhistic monks have a good understanding of those tactics and therefore feel obliged to react in order to defend Buddhism, like Wirathu and others. I can understand them and therefore support them, but not for ALL the rubies in Burma !

  8. Peace to all beings.
    There is mo such thing as “righteous Buddhist violence” and “unrighteous Muslim violence. There is only violence. It leads directly to hell.
    BREAK THE SWORD, THROW AWAY THE STICK. – This is the way to peace. Allow your fellow human being who is your neighbour space to breathe.
    I am very concerned about these riots.

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