Recent Death Threats Against Journalists Draw Rebuke

By Nyein Nyein 11 April 2019

YANGON — Journalists and others have warned that recent death threats against media outlets over their reporting on the fighting in Rakhine State pose a threat to the whole country as it transitions toward democracy, though some also urged reporters to maintain high ethical standards.

Last week, about a dozen media organizations in Myanmar spanning print, television and the internet received death threats via anonymous emails, phone calls and social media messages on their coverage of the fighting between the Arakan Army and Myanmar military. They are believed to have come from people who support either side.

Some of the outlets that received the threats — including The Irrawaddy, 7Day, Democracy Today and Khit Thit — reported them to the Myanmar Press Council and the President’s Office and called for an investigation.

“The threats against journalists are bad for journalism and also not good for the country,” said U Aung Hla Tun, the deputy minister of information.

The veteran journalist-come-cabinet member said the media “has to be able to work in their profession without being threatened” so that they can perform “as watchdogs, not lapdogs, to point out maltreatment and injustice.”

But he added that most people lack social media literacy and often unwittingly share false information not posted by established news outlets, so that a few bad actors end up besmirching the reputation of the news media as a whole.

Even though the latest threats came from anonymous sources and fake accounts, U Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council, said they could inspire yet more threats. If they did, he said journalists would be at increased risk of attack.

U Myint Kyaw said the chairman of the council has forwarded the reports it received on to the President’s Office in hopes that it can track down who sent the threats.

At the same time, he urged journalists to always act ethically, especially when covering sensitive stories.

“Upholding ethics is a shield that protects journalists, and this is an alarm to remind us that we should never drift from ethical reporting,” he said.

Foreign diplomats in Myanmar also expressed their concern over the threats.

“The recent increase in threats and intimidation to newsrooms and journalists reporting on conflict is deeply concerning. Journalists need to be able to do their jobs as part of a democracy,” U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel told The Irrawaddy.

Khit Thit founder Ko Thar Lun Zaung Htet said the lack of legal protection for journalists left them especially vulnerable to being labeled the “enemy” by the government, military and ultra-nationalists.

“These threats, which can be considered organized crime, show that our media are again in a dark period in this democratic era when we are struggling to be independent because the media industry is suffering economically.” he said.

He also worried that more threats might follow in the lead-up to next year’s general election.