Ma Ba Tha Determined to Make Airwaves

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 29 June 2015

RANGOON — Where there’s a will, there’s a way, according to the Ma Ba Tha. Burma’s Ministry of Information last week dashed the group’s hopes of launching its own radio station—at least for now—but Ma Ba Tha said it will keep pushing.

Ma Ba Tha spokesman Ashin Par Mouk Kha told The Irrawaddy late last week that the group plans to lobby the government for swift passage of a forthcoming Broadcast Law to allow them to begin broadcasting public sermons without pairing with a state-owned enterprise.

“We can’t do it without their support,” Par Mouk Kha said, adding that any attempt by the government to obstruct the group’s airwave ambitions would be viewed as a blow to the preservation of Buddhism.

Last week, a Buddhist delegation from Thailand offered the group 40 million kyats (US$35,800) to finance equipment and construction of FM radio stations.

Ma Ba Tha, an acronym for the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, is a powerful group of Buddhist figures largely viewed as anti-Muslim nationalists.

The group was behind lobbying efforts to advance a controversial legislative package that could limit birthrates, restrict interfaith marriage and complicate religious conversion. The much-criticized Population Control Law was first of the four bills to be signed into law late last month.

Ma Ba Tha has also been accused of spreading hate speech on social media and through inflammatory language in public sermons, prompting concern that a private radio station could be used to foster intolerance.

Par Mouk Kha denied any ill-intention, vowing that the group “won’t broadcast any hate things or anything that can fuel religious conflict.”

Regardless of content, Burma’s Minister of information Ye Htut told reporters last week that the group would not be allowed to air on FM radio until a forthcoming Broadcast Bill is enacted. Current law requires broadcasters to partner with Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), a state-owned enterprise operating under the ministry.

MRTV permanent secretary Tint Swe told The Irrawaddy that there are presently about 10 semi-commercial radio stations in Burma, all of which are required to collaborate with the ministry under the 1989 State Enterprise Law.

Tint Swe said that all current radio stations were approved by the former government through a long and complex vetting process, and that “there have been no new FM stations under [President Thein Sein’s] government.”

If broadcasters are found operating without a state-issued license, he said, they will be subject to fines or possible prison sentences.