Newspaper Defends Cartoon Criticizing Military

By Nyein Nyein 17 October 2012

A day after coming under fire from a military-owned newspaper for publishing a cartoon critical of Burma’s armed forces, The Myanmar Times has defended the move as part of its effort to encourage public debate.

The cartoon, by former Irrawaddy cartoonist Harn Lay, depicts a member of Burma’s civilian government releasing doves of peace, while a man in military uniform shoots them down.

A biting commentary on the ongoing conflict in Kachin State at a time when the Burmese government is negotiating peace deals with a host of ethnic armed groups, the cartoon first appeared in The Myanmar Times on Oct. 8.

It was not until Tuesday of this week, however, that Myawaddy Daily, owned by Burma’s armed forces, responded with a commentary criticizing the cartoon for creating “misunderstandings” about the army’s role in the peace process.

The commentary, penned by an author writing under the name Maung Pyi Chit, warned against publishing cartoons on such sensitive issues, and urged The Myanmar Times not to repeat its “mistake.”

Contacted by The Irrawaddy via email on Wednesday, Thomas Kean, the editor of the English edition of The Myanmar Times, said that he welcomed the feedback from the military, but stood by the decision to run the cartoon.

“The military is free to express their views—in fact, I welcome that—and we should be free to express ours,” he said.

He added, however, that “if we were to be punished for publishing this cartoon then my opinion on that would probably change.”

Kean said that The Myanmar Times, which publishes once a week on Mondays, recently added editorial cartoons to “try to encourage as wide a range of views as possible” to its opinion section. He added that the cartoon did not necessarily reflect the views of The Myanmar Times.

While defending his decision to publish the cartoon, Kean also offered some advice to the military on how to address what it deems to be misperceptions of its role.

“A senior military official should hold a press conference” rather than running an article in a military-owned newspaper under a pseudonym, said Kean. “If the military does this—holding press conference outlining why they believe the cartoon is unfair and misrepresenting of what is really happening—then I think it will change public perceptions about its activities much more quickly.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut wrote on his Facebook page that as a former military man himself, he agreed with the opinions expressed in the Myawaddy commentary.

Harn Lay, however, said that he was unmoved by the commentary, adding that he would continue contributing cartoons in the same vein in the future.

Noting that he actually drew the cartoon half a year ago, he said that it is still an accurate depiction of the situation in Kachin State.

“Six months later, there is still no end to fighting, so I contributed this cartoon to The Myanmar Times to use as they wanted.”