The Irrawaddy

Former Student Activist Calls Out State Media for Use of Demeaning Name

U Hla Shwe, the last editor of the Oway Student Magazine in 1960s, pictured in March 2016.

RANGOON – A state-run newspaper has failed to explain the use of the derogatory and embarrassing slang term “kjat,” meaning “chicken,” to describe the former editor of Oway Student Magazine in the 1960s, in a story published on Thursday.

The article covered a meeting held on Feb. 22 regarding the re-construction of the Rangoon University Student Union building, which was dynamited in July 1962 by then-ruling Gen Ne Win.

In attendance were National League for Democracy (NLD) executive leaders, Rangoon’s chief minister U Phyo Min Thein, former student union leaders from 1950s-70s, the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, as well as current university students who have called for the re-establishment of the student union, at the NLD headquarters in Rangoon.

State-run media published that the former 1960s-era student activist U Hla Shwe, also known as U Aung Thar, attended the meeting, which he did not. U Hla Shwe was the last editor of the Oway Student Magazine, the student union’s annual publication, first published and edited by Aung San in 1935. It went on to feature the work of some of Burma’s most influential writers.
The state-run newspaper published U Hla Shwe’s name as “Kjat Hla Shwe,” which is a demeaning expression—one once used covertly by former military intelligence officers in the 1980s to describe U Hla Shwe, who bred chickens to support his family.

U Hla Shwe was also a member of the secretariat of the former All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) from 1960-61.

Both the English and Burmese language editions made the correction on Friday that U Hla Shwe did not attend the meeting and said, “we apologize for the mistake.”

But the newspapers did not apologize for the defamatory title, U Hla Shwe said, and added that he wants a public statement released explaining the word choice.

U Hla Shwe told The Irrawaddy on Friday that “the writer Tin Maung Latt [or pen name Ko Latt] came to his home and extended his apology, and promised to make a proper correction. But when it actually came out, it was not a satisfactory correction.”

He added, “When I went to the Kyemon office [the state-run Burmese edition of the newspaper] this morning, I was told that no one responsible was there and that I should leave. They made the correction that I did not attend the meeting, but the newspaper did not make any correction to that defamatory term of ‘Kjat Hla Shwe.’”

The Ministry of Information’s spokesperson U Ye Naing told The Irrawaddy on Friday that they had published the correction with an apology, “with the consent of the person concerned, but they did not include the term [Kjat] as it was the wrong expression to use and they would not repeat it.”

U Ye Naing said it had been printed due to a misunderstanding: his reporter mistook a man named U Hla Shwe who attended the meeting with the veteran student activist. U Ye Naing added that the reporter did not know that the term “kjat” would cause U Hla Shwe displeasure.

He added, “We made our apology in accordance with our ethics and our editor-in-chief also apologized over the phone and the reporter went to apologize in person. The apology text published today was all agreed by U Hla Shwe and the reporter U Ko Latt.”

The ministry spokesman said that they have done their best and if they receive more requests, they will address them in accordance with their news ethics standards and procedures.

U Hla Shwe’s family has spoken out as well. May Zune Oo, U Hla Shwe’s daughter, wrote in a public Facebook post that she was displeased by the way that the state media referred to her father, a former political prisoner. She said that she felt “really hurt” that a demeaning term had been printed to describe him in media run by a civilian-elected government.

“I want to ask the current government and all the people: haven’t we been traumatized enough?” May Zune Oo wrote, describing a childhood in which she could only visit her father in prison.

U Ye Naing was familiar with May Zune Oo’s comments. “We hear now that his daughter is not pleased with it; we will explain more, and try to settle it,” he said. Rangoon