Myanmar Journalists Leave Jobs in Face of Military Regime Restrictions on Media Freedom

By The Irrawddy 18 February 2021

Yangon-Eleven members of the Myanmar Press Council and more than a dozen journalists at The Myanmar Times have left their jobs in the face of new restrictions by the military regime that threaten media freedom.

On Feb. 13, the military-run Ministry of Information (MOI) issued directives to Myanmar’s Press Council, a media adjudication body that investigates and settles press disputes, urging the media to report “ethically” and “avoid instigating public unrest.”

The directives quickly went viral online.

The directives stated that some newspapers, weeklies and online media “wrongly” use “regime” for the junta’s governing body, the State Administrative Council (SAC), “which was constitutionally formed by the military.”

“So, journalists and media are informed not to use ‘regime or junta’ for the SAC, which is [acting in accordance with] the State of Emergency provision; and not to instigate public unrest while following media ethics on reporting,” the directives state.

In response, eleven members of the Myanmar Press Council announced Wednesday that they have resigned from the council because the military is trying to prescribe laws restricting media freedom.

U Myint Kyaw, joint secretary of the council, said that after the coup the council has been facing difficulties in its efforts to protect journalists who have been detained, arrested and beaten in recent days.

“It is not easy to protect the journalists despite [the fact that] we are the council members. It is not good for us and media. This is why, we resigned from the council,” said U Myint Kyaw.

At The Myanmar Times more than a dozen journalists — including several of the newsroom’s leading editors — left their jobs after facing what they viewed as censorship by the management team.

The move came on Tuesday after the newspaper’s management forced one of its journalists to attend a press conference held by the military regime, despite the fact that all newsroom staff members had decided to boycott the press conference.

Most of Myanmar’s media boycotted the press conference

The Myanmar Times is the one of the oldest privately owned and operated English-language newspapers in Myanmar. It publishes under Myanmar Consolidated Media, the business established by U Sonny Swe and Ross Dunkley at the start of 2000

In 2014, Myanmar tycoon U Thein Tun bought the business and is now running the daily newspaper in both Burmese and English versions.

Editors and journalist told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that they have been interfered with in their daily reporting and have been instructed to use the terms specified by the Ministry of Information recognizing military rule since the coup.

Reporters said that the management level of the media outlet has banned the use of the term “coup,” telling them to use the term “power transfer” instead.

In addition, when mentioning the military’s chief position, the terms “the coup leader” and “the leader of military” have been banned in reporting. Reporters are asked to refer to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as the chair of State Administrative Council (SAC).

One of the newsroom’s leading editors (who asked not to be named) told The Irrawaddy that after the military coup, management asked the newsroom to use the terms approved by the military regime in its reporting.

Newsroom staff members have also been told to avoid the reporting about public opposition to the military coup as much as they can.

“During this circumstance, we have to help people know more about the current situations. Our reporting will be meaningless if we don’t report about the current crisis and our word usages are being replaced with weak ones,” said an editor who has been working for The Myanmar Times for more than ten years.

“We would feel ashamed as journalists if we continue working under such kinds of (censorship),” said the editor, concerning her resignation.

Another newsroom editor, who also has more than ten years working experience, said that ownership has shown it stands on the side of the military regime.

Asked about her decision to resign, she said, “The main reason is the different stands [taken by] the journalist and The Myanmar Times”.

According to the reporters, five of the newsroom’s leading editors, nine reporters and three video journalists have announced their resignations so far.

Another journalist who worked for The Myanmar Times for years said that while the legitimacy of the coup is still controversial, management insists on following the instructions of the information ministry.

“As a private media, we wanted to stand independently,” he said after his resignation.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy, Chief Operating Officer U Wai Lin of the Myanmar Times denied the accusation of censorship in the newsroom.

“We just asked them to comply with the instructions of Ministry of Information and to be neutral as a media,” he said.