Military Submits Complaint to Press Council Over Satirical Article

By Tin Htet Paing 4 May 2017

RANGOON — In the latest dispute between the military and a local daily, the Myanmar Press Council mediates a complaint over a satirical piece questioning the country’s ongoing peace process, a member of council leadership said.

The piece titled “Kyi Htaung Su Thitsar”—meaning “oath made in a nation of bullets”—was published in the March 26 edition of The Voice Daily newspaper and written by the paper’s regular satire columnist who goes by the pen name British Ko Ko Maung.

It was the third complaint from the military—following two others filed against separate private media organizations in 2015 and 2016—highlighting its intolerance of criticism, fearing a negative portrayal of the institution.

The piece was titled satirically after an army-produced film “Pyi Htaung Su Thitsar” that can be translated as “Union Oath,” which aired on state- and military-owned television channels in early March, commemorating the country’s 72nd Armed Forces Day.

The piece satirized the long-running civil war and that different ethnic groups are united simply to fight one another.

It also mocked that people inside the country are so united that they do not need to leave the country to fight wars when they can just make a one-day drive to reach the frontline. Lower-ranking soldiers die in ongoing battles on the frontlines while “Top Leaders” of respective armed groups hold peace talks and exchange smiles, the columnist portrayed.

According to Dr. Myo Thant Tin, a press council deputy chair, the council received a complaint from the military’s Rangoon regional command just before the Burmese New Year holiday in early April, in which the military expressed its discontent with the article. He refused to disclose specific details of the complaint.

However, according to a DVB report last week quoting U Myint Kyaw, a member of the council, the military said the article “could cause divisions between military officials and their subordinates because it implied that lower-ranking soldiers are the ones who actually have to die in battle while officials do not really have to fight.”

Ko Aung Soe, executive editor of The Voice Daily, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the news outlet’s editorial team was informed by the council about the complaint on April 25 and replied to the council two days later.

“We explained in our reply that there are different standards and qualifications between news stories and satirical articles,” Ko Aung Soe said, adding that the military might have misinterpreted the article.

While the satirist mocked the situation with humor and creativity, it was constructive and in no way intended to harm the image of the government or army, Ko Aung Soe emphasized.

Satirist Ko Ko Maung told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that his article did not name any specific institution, group or army, but satirized a generic situation regarding all armed groups with humor.

“I heard [the military] complained to the press council that my article could cause divisions between military officials and their subordinates but my intention was to urge the end of civil war,” he said.

According to the press council’s complaint committee, it will organize a face-to-face meeting between the two parties by the end of next week. According to media law, the press council has to take action against any complaint received within 15 days and settle between respective parties within 60 days, Dr. Myo Thant Tin said.

In June 2016, the army sued the local private newspaper 7 Day Daily for publishing a story about former general Shwe Mann’s message to graduates of the Defense Services Academy, which urged his former colleagues to work in conjunction with the country’s newly-elected democratic government.

The military claimed the article could lead to disunity in the army and encourage treason, and filed a lawsuit under Section 131 of Burma’s Penal Code against the newspaper. The lawsuit was later dropped following negotiations, but the newspaper printed an apology to the military in state media as part of the settlement.

Prior to the 7 Day Daily incident, the movie “Twilight over Burma” was banned from being screened publicly and removed from a film festival by a censorship board, which alleged that the film could damage the image of the army and harm ethnic unity. The film tells the story of ethnic Shan leader Sao Kya Seng—who was arrested by the Burma Army during Gen Ne Win’s coup and later disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

In 2015, local private newspaper The Myanmar Times apologized for a cartoon published in its Burmese-language weekly, drawn by artist Htoo Chit featuring a husband and wife discussing the conflict in Laukkai between the military and ethnic Kokang armed forces.