Journalists Weigh in on Front Page Omission of U Ko Ni’s Death in State Media

By San Yamin Aung 1 February 2017

RANGOON — As editors of Burma’s private daily news outlets decided to run the killing of the ruling party’s legal advisor on their front pages, their counterparts from the state-run English paper removed the news from page one at the last minute, with its editor stating that they “can’t make decisions the way that private dailies do.”

U Ko Ni, 65, was shot by a gunman outside Rangoon International Airport on Sunday afternoon. He had been advising the National League for Democracy (NLD) on legal matters for years. He conducted legal trainings for the party’s lawmakers, and was also an expert on the country’s controversial 2008 Constitution, which the NLD has been trying to amend. He is believed to one of persons who created the position of “State Counselor” for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred in the Constitution from holding the Presidency.

The Global New Light of Myanmar regularly uploads their paper for the following day in PDF format late at night on the website of the Ministry of Information, which owns the outlet.

The initial electronic version of the Global New Light of Myanmar for Jan. 30 displayed a story on the assassination of the Muslim lawyer on the front page. It featured just below the news and a photo of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attending a ceremonial planting of Japanese cherry blossom trees in Naypyidaw on Sunday.

But readers awoke on Monday morning to see nothing about the shooting on the paper’s front page. Instead, it was featured as a part of the banner referred to on the third page. The same applied to the electronic version. Other state-run Burmese-language media outlets, including The Mirror and Myanma Alin, ran the story on their back pages.

The editorial team for the Global New Light of Myanmar appeared to have changed the story’s placement at the last minute.

U Aye Min Soe, the paper’s chief editor, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that one of his staff mistakenly uploaded the initial PDF draft to the website before the final version had been approved.

“We didn’t take out the news. It was referred to in the banner,” he said, adding that the story’s placement had been decided by “top level” officials.

He explained that while private papers enjoyed more freedom, government papers had to take the consequences of its publication choices more seriously. He said that readers tend to take it for granted that everything published in the paper—even outside contributors’ pieces—reflect the government’s opinions.

“We have that kind of pressure. We can’t make decisions the way that private dailies do,” he said.

But the Global New Light of Myanmar’s decision to remove the news from the front page was not immune to criticism, especially as sympathy for U Ko Ni poured in and the public demanded justice for him.

U Swe Win, editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now, said that the removal of the story on U Ko Ni from the front page reflected a lack of editorial independence in government newspapers and proof they still serve as loudspeakers for those in power.

“It shows that when it comes to a story about people from other religions, the papers treat the news very carefully. The government officials are reluctant to stand for truth,” he said.

U Myint Kyaw from the Myanmar Press Council said every professional editor in Burma should have run the assassination of U Ko Ni as front page news.

“I think that the Global New Light of Myanmar still doesn’t have full editorial independence,” he said, referring to U Ko Ni’s story.

For freelance journalist Ko Nyunt Win, scrubbing the assassination story from page one suggested that state-run media outlets have run their course in Burma.

“The idea that they are running a mouthpiece newspaper in a time where there are an abundance of independent media outlets in the country is crap. What a waste of public money!” he said.