RANGOON — The Burmese distributor of Time magazine Asia has said it will scrap sales of the magazine’s July 1st issue because of the controversy in Burma over its cover, which features a photo of nationalist monk U Wirathu with the headline “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”
Burma’s government, meanwhile, is still considering a ban on the July issue.
Maung Maung Lwin, manager of Inwa Publications, which is the sole distributor of Time magazine Asia in Burma, said, “Our board of directors had decided that, as Buddhists, we should not distribute the July 1st issue of Time magazine.”
“This is not due outside pressures. It is our own decision,” he said, adding that the company felt it had a responsibility to scrutinize the content of the publications it distributes.
“In the past, we had a censorship board … Now, we have to take sole responsibility, that’s why our board decided it should not be distributed,” Maung Maung Lwin told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
Inwa Publications distributes about 600 copies of Time magazine in Burma, the majority of which are delivered to subscribers, he said, adding, “In our bookstores we have officially announced that we will not distribute the July 1st issue.”
Time magazine Asia’s cover story explores the rise of aggressive, nationalist Buddhism in Burma and other parts of Asia, such as Sri Lanka, and describes the role of radical monks like U Wirathu in this movement.
U Wirathu leads the ‘969’ campaign, which calls on Burma’s Buddhist majority to shun the Muslim minority and their businesses, and to support only Buddhist shops. It has been accused of stirring up deadly inter-communal violence that has spread through Burma during the past year.
Time’s story seems to have offended many in Burma because they feel it couples the country’s Buddhist tradition — and its revered monks — with terror and violence. The Burmese government and local media outlets, such Eleven Media, have come out to condemn the article.
Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut said on Tuesday that the Central Management Committee for Emergency Periods was meeting in Naypyidaw to discuss the controversy and the possible banning of Time’s July 1st issue.
President Thein Sein set up the committee in late March to address and prevent inter-communal unrest.
Ye Htut said he had felt it necessary to inform the committee — of which he is a member — about the article in Time magazine.
“If we distribute this magazine it could raise tensions, it could sort of instigate [unrest],” he said, adding that it “could lead to misunderstandings among different religious groups” and “affect citizens’ constitutional rights and duties.”
He added, “So far, we have no plan to take action against [Time reporter] Hannah Beech.”
Burma’s government has been accused of doing little to curb the anti-Muslim attacks that have wrecked dozens of communities, out of fear of losing support among the Buddhist majority. Some human rights groups allege it has actively supported the violence.
When asked why the government was considering taking action against Time magazine’s English-language article but not against the divisive 969 movement, Ye Htut said, “I’ve never listened to the 969 materials, but I’ve read about it on your website.
“If you think 969 material is hate speech then you can complain to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Sangha Maha Nayak [state-controlled monastic council]. It’s not my ministry’s responsibility.”