Nearly 10 months after Myanmar’s military coup, the country’s media is attempting to continue reporting, navigating arrests and persecutions from the junta.
Thousands of protesters have refused to accept military rule, including deposed politicians, activists, religious leaders and others, and fighting has broken out between the junta and local defense forces.
But the local media is trying to hide that opposition and has come out against the odds.
Initially, Junta revoked the licenses of five media outlets. It was a decision that “shocked” the industry, said Thomas Keane, editor-in-chief of the English-language news outlet. frontier myanmar,
Myanmar military removes five licensed media companies
“Since then, more have been banned, more journalists have been arrested and it has since gone downhill, gradually more difficult, month after month,” Keane said.
One of his own teammates—American journalist Danny Fenster—was jailed for nearly six months.
After revoking licenses and arrests, the military cut access to the Internet and amended a telecommunications law to allow for prison sentences.
The junta has said it is working to bring stability. Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun has previously said the military “respects the freedom of the press” and only arrests journalists who create unrest.
history of repression
Rights groups including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) say the coup has set back media freedom by a decade. But some say the country never enjoyed real press freedom, even under Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government.
Under the last period of military rule, the country was considered one of the most censored places globally. Access to independent news websites was blocked, visas were rarely granted to foreign media and some privately owned media operations had to submit material for review before publication.
Those restrictions began to be eased in 2011, when Thin Sein was elected as the first civilian prime minister in nearly half a century.
His early policies eased restrictions and ended pre-publication censorship regulation.
was working for Keane around that time Myanmar Times, one of the oldest privately owned English language newspapers in the country.
“From about mid-2010 you could sense that, it was still heavily censored, but you could feel that the censorship was getting lighter. For the standards of the time, quite a bit. [political] There were debates going on in the newspapers,” Keane told Granthshala from Melbourne, Australia.
The easing of media rules had an immediate effect. Myanmar shows slow but steady improvement RSF’s Annual Press Freedom Index, moving up from 151 in 2013 – its first appearance – to a record high of 131 in 2017. The index scores countries on media rights, with 1 being the most free. Myanmar was ranked 140 at the beginning of 2021.
As censorship laws were scrapped, Myanmar saw a wave of privately owned media outlets. “2015 was the peak of the print advertising market,” Keane said.
The following year, major telecommunications companies started operating in Myanmar.
However, in a trend observed globally, the expansion of Internet services had a negative impact on the print industry, leading to a decline in advertising revenue.
Ai Chan Naying, co-founder of independent media outlet Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), told Granthshala that those issues persist today.
“Business, and streaming, it also poses a threat to independent journalism – like, online Google, Facebook, all the ad revenue, it’s going into digital marketing, and the media doesn’t really survive,” he said.
While censorship was relaxed during this period, journalists still risked arrest and sanctions.
In 2017, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw So O were jailed for more than 500 days for their reporting on the Myanmar army massacre of Rohingya members in Rakhine state.
But the spurt in arrests since the coup has led outlets frontier myanmar And to replace DVB with how and where they report.
media in exile
One of the biggest changes, said DVB, who operates from exile, is that journalists have to rely heavily on multiple sources.
“NS [biggest] The challenge is that we have to rely on our sources, second hand or third hand. It is very difficult for us to live on the ground. And we have to rely on witnesses,” he said.
At least three DVB journalists were detained in Myanmar for several months, until they were released as part of a collective amnesty in October.
Another three fled to Thailand but were arrested and given a suspended prison sentence for illegal entry. They have since shifted to a third country.
Keane said the barriers and difficulty in reporting have made social media and citizen journalists important.
“Media organizations can work remotely to some degree, but we cannot send journalists across the country like we used to. It is very difficult to confirm what is actually happening,” he said.
yangon-based frontier myanmar Launched in 2015, publishing feature-style journalism targeted at English speakers.
But soon after the February coup, it was forced to shut down the print edition.
“We were concerned about the safety of our delivery workers and we focused on breaking news,” Keane said. “We didn’t want to be distracted by trying to write a feature for a magazine, because people didn’t need that kind of information at the time.”
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 among the newspaper’s team and the disappearance of print audiences, Keane said there was no point in resuming publication at the moment.
In an email to customers last month, frontier myanmar Assured readers that the publication had only temporarily suspended its services.
“It’s clearly not something we wanted to do, but we think it’s in the best interest marginal Essential to the team and our long-term survival,” the email read.
The detention of the newspaper’s managing editor, Fenster, also had an effect.
Fenster, 37, was jailed last week after nearly six months on charges that he was still working for Myanmar Now, an outlet banned by the junta earlier this year. The journalist had resigned from that company months before the coup.
Myanmar frees American journalist from May
Keane said Frontier Myanmar was “incredibly relieved” that Fenster was finally released.
“We were in the dark about what was happening in terms of efforts to release Danny. We weren’t celebrating until he got on the plane and left Myanmar airspace,” Keane said.
However, at least 37 journalists are in custody in Myanmar. Reporting ASEAN, an organization documenting the action.