Press Warned Against Inciting Arakan Clashes

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

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

Burmese media has been warned not to print inflammatory coverage of the violence in Arakan State in a briefing which made clear that government censorship remains ruthless in the military-dominated nation.

Despite an easing of regulations in the wake of reformist President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government taking office, the Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe warned journalists on Sunday to be careful when reporting news of the Arakan unrest.

Myint Swe asked for journals not to use inflammatory language that could lead to the instability in the state, warning that transgressors will be charged with Section 5(j) of the Emergency Provisions Act and Section 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code—possibly facing nine years imprisonment.

“The media reported this Arakan news very quickly which could lead to instability,” Myint Swe told a press conference hosted by the Rangoon authorities at 7 pm on Sunday. “This is a very important time in Burma so when reporting the news you should be aware of your responsibilities rather than just being competitive with your rival journals.”

He added that the media is currently enflaming the conflict and, although the Constitution respects freedom of expression for journalists, writing must not jeopardize state stability, sovereignty or the rule of law.

“The information department takes care of censorship as well as if there is any violation of the laws so journals concerned will be charged,” warned Myint Swe. “This is advance notice.”

Section 5(j) of the Emergency Provisions Act is to “affect the morality or conduct of the public or a group of people in a way that would undermine the security of the Union or the restoration of law and order,” and carries a sentence of seven years as well as an indeterminate fine.

Section 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code it to act “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility,” and carries a sentence of two years imprisonment.

Deputy Director-General Tint Swe of the censorship board—officially known as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD)—told the meeting that all news must pass his department before publication.

“News must be passed by the PSRD and published according to its permission otherwise those responsible will be charged under the 1962 act which is still in place,” he said, referring to legislation passed by former dictator Ne Win that is due to be replaced with a new media law by August.

Phay Myint, chief editor of Pyithukhit journal in Rangoon, complained that the “Arakan Press Conference” was simply an excuse to put pressure on the media and did not provide any information about the current situation. He added that the authorities were not singling out journals which had broken the rules but summoned all publications to chastise them together.

“We could not ask questions—they left straight after giving us the warning. I am very disappointed to be treated like this,” he said.

Burmese journalists said that PSRD is trying to regain control over media by pointing out the mistakes of a single publication because all news journals have been publishing stories without going through the censorship board.

“Most of the media have been maintaining their ethics but because some broke the rules the censorship board is trying to regain control over everyone,” a journalist told The Irrawaddy. “It is impossible that the censorship board will be abolished by June [to make way for a new media law].”

Distributors claim that sales of journals in Burma have risen sharply since the beginning of violence in Arakan State.

Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma’s far west left at least eight people dead and 17 wounded at the weekend. Tensions have been steadily growing since the alleged rape of an Arakanese woman by three Muslim men in late May, and the retaliatory killing of 10 Muslims on a bus last week.


12 Responses to Press Warned Against Inciting Arakan Clashes

  1. This ‘government’ does not have a mandate to be ‘ruthless’ or to ‘order’ the press around, not if it wants to keep its reputation for ‘making change’.

    If instead they want to be a military regime again, and behave in such a barbaric way again, with this sort of arcane language, then we should all go back to square one and stop pretending. Then sanctions will need to be reimposed.

    If this ‘government’ which was not cleanly elected wants any credibility, they need to keep moving towards what is long overdue in Burma, starting with health and education, and problem-solving- not censorship. Or they could state their desire to maintain control of a nation they brutalised, and take the consequences.

    • I disagree somewhat, Even in the West there are a number of laws against “inciting hate crime” in public, through newspapers etc. (“Holocaust denial” is for example an offense. Even the use of certain words, such as “n*gger”, is banned in public discourse)

      I am definitely a believer in free speech, but it is a very fine line between private freedom of an individual and “freedom in the public domain”. Of course, nowadays with social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. the line between “private” and “public” is not so clear anymore. Burma’s “reforms” are still in their infancy, so you have to give them some time to develop, but I do think, that given the really ugly volatile situation in Arakan State (and it might flare up again!) the “authorities” and the “press” (including The Irrawaddy) behaved in a rather reasonable and responsible manner. Burma needs peace, before we can hope for other things.

  2. Irrawady Media should be careful in using the word “ruthless” to describe the government cencership. The evil of “free media” is that they are irresponsible, citing hatred, and causing division. We don’t want that to happen in Burma. Media should report the truth with the aim to help the citizens educated and united, building up a better future.

  3. Your article is misleading. I lost trust in your organization because of your incorrect portray of this matter.

  4. Section 5(j0 should be abolished. Myint Swe is toeing the military line because he wants to be Vice President.

  5. “The media reported this Arakan news very quickly which could lead to instability,” Myint Swe told a press conference.– I fully agree and the first one which inflamated news and started the mass on religious grounds was the DVB and the Irrawaddy Magazine, the way they reported on the sure bad rape and murder case ( it was not needed to have on such a ” Daily Crime also in Myanmar – the rape “, to mix an religon in. Some Censor is Good to Protect as we saw now.
    But than I do not understand U Myint Swe that he did not talk about that one printed, published and sent around in Taunguk before and on 3.6.2012 hate flyers against Muslim and for half a day no one of the Taunguk Government, Police, Sayapa etc etc could not act and until now can not name who did that and who is behind these which lead to the slaughter of 11 Myanmar citizen in by the Taunguk Rakhine people.
    Also not to understand how on Saturday U Myint Swe s Government could let the Rakhine marching with hate slogans to and on the Shwedagon,- people with grimm faces in Monk Robs held up same hate slogans and boards,- under the pretext of praying for the dead onse….
    Here any sensitivity by the Rakhine people but also Yangon Government to stop such things at a place as Shwedagon – which should stay nutral and for peace was absolute missing and looked like just heating up as much as possible.
    Will see how the Yangon Government will in Sanchaung protect on Tuesday 12.6.2012 from 16:00 pm all nearby mosques and muslim communities. There would be no excuse anymore if they are not stand by and ensure peace at any second. A place where 88 crisis started.

  6. Really? This is what you took away from the announcement? Have you read the comments on facebook pages of EMG, The Voice and other burmese media? And the feeling is pretty universal in Burma.

    The people are very angry after seeing photos of bloodied monk faces and burned villages. Of course Irrawaddy refuses to acknowledge the real villains in this case but there’s also a danger of going overboard on the other side. The press needs to be careful when reporting such sensitive issues as it could cause widespread sectarian violence throughout the country.

  7. This is what we have been talking about. Freedom of press must be applied in this kind of situation. I hate you, Thein Sein.

  8. “The media reported this Arakan news very quickly which could lead to instability,” Myint Swe told a press conference.– I fully agree and the first one which inflamated news and started the mass on religious grounds was the DVB and the Irrawaddy Magazine, the way they reported on the sure bad rape and murder case ( it was not needed to have on such a ” Daily Crime also in Myanmar – the rape “, to mix an religon in. Some Censor is Good to Protect as we saw now.
    But than I do not understand U Myint Swe that he did not talk about that one printed, published and sent around in Taunguk before and on 3.6.2012 hate flyers against Muslim and for half a day no one of the Taunguk Government, Police, Sayapa etc etc could not act and until now can not name who did that and who is behind these which lead to the slaughter of 11 Myanmar citizen in by the Taunguk Rakhine people. ( and not 10 as reported – do nit for get the spare driver killed instantly )
    Also not to understand how on Saturday U Myint Swe s Government could let the Rakhine marching with hate slogans to and on the Shwedagon,- people with grimm faces in Monk Robs held up same hate slogans and boards,- under the pretext of praying for the dead onse….
    Here any sensitivity by the Rakhine people but also Yangon Government to stop such things at a place as Shwedagon – which should stay nutral and for peace was absolute missing and looked like just heating up as much as possible.
    Will see how the Yangon Government will in Sanchaung protect on Tuesday 12.6.2012 from 16:00 pm all nearby mosques and muslim communities. There would be no excuse anymore if they are not stand by and ensure peace at any second. A place where 88 crisis started.

  9. Thanks for writing “allegedly” in the final par. Innocent until proven guilty seems to have fallen by the wayside here. The New Light of Myanmar reports failed to use this word at all.

  10. Bad news for the nascent Myanmar media.You are under the threat of an archaic 1962 Press Law.You are
    trested not the members of 4th Eatate,merely a foot soldier obey orders.Who used the most hated and derogatory
    ” Kalar” in official News Paper and where do they print the socalled “correction”? Hidden in the mids of advisements!!!
    Do our socalled media authorities know difference between ” true information” and propaganda or Mini
    Truths as George Orwell said in his famous book.We all know and reject incitements and inflammmatory
    News of any kind,we are entitled to quick and true state of affairs happening in our country,not in a bizarred
    cocnvoluted cryptic way.Sure media is responsible to report as truly as possibly can.In this age of instant
    Information,your 1962 junk should have been long dead and hurried together with its creator.Let us not go
    back to the miedieval dark age

  11. Maung Kyaw Nu,Former political prisoner of conscience,

    Media tight control is the main tool of Military junta for 50 years. They don’t like to come out any genocidal operation to the world. They would like to do everything in controlled way. When the people of Burma get full Media freedom and meaningful rule of law ,we can say the real democracy and equal rights are enjoyed there. Its needs to go a long long way to avail it .However the Irrawaddy has done the media freedom rule since it was established.

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