Mysterious satirical site relaunches
FRESHER than The Onion and more daring than any other news service in Myanmar, the Burma Tha Din Network has revived itself this month.
The website, run anonymously, delivers satirical takes on Myanmar news. Its tagline – “Reporting on Burma and the world, because sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction” – does not explicitly state that it is a fake news site, but close reading of the posted stories reveals the service’s true colour.
Take, for example, it’s most recent article, published on November 17 after a five-month-long hiatus: Entitled “Was Suu Kyi cloned by Than Shwe?”, the special investigation concludes that “Burma’s suspected nuclear program was in fact cover for an ambitious and groundbreaking program to clone democracy activists in order to neutralise the threat they posed”.
Other articles, which date back as far as March 2010, include: “Unelected President ushers in new era of democracy”; “Keep hate speech and violence on the streets, not on Facebook, says Burma President”; and “Burma’s Suu Kyi Freed to avoid ‘disappointing’ Ban Ki-moon”.
Though the obviously-tongue-incheek stories might elicit more than a few chuckles from most readers, Burma Tha Din Network’s willingness to joke about sensitive issues might cause it problems with those seen as the butt of its jibes.
Already this year, an Eleven Media editor was jailed for insinuating in a column that a National League for Democracy minister was corrupt; merely joking that “The Lady” is, in fact, a clone could be grounds to get the anonymous editors jailed under the auspices of the Telecommunications Law, which states that anyone who produces “communications, reception, transmission, distribution or conveyance of incorrect information with dishonesty or participation” is liable for one year’s imprisonment.
The Burma Tha Din Network appears willing to take their chances, however, with stories like June 22’s “UN to call Burmans ‘People who believe in Buddha’”. That story treads lightly around highly-sensitive ethnic minority issues, and ends with a sharp barb directed at the international community that implies the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Myanmar believes “anything men wearing green tell them”.
Kayleigh Long, a former editor at The Myanmar Times, has experience with writing satirical news in Myanmar after running the former-weekly edition’s Page Two. She said she would “absolutely not run” that type of humour in the current media climate.
“There’s some difference between print and online,” she said. “I never allowed it to be put on the website as I wanted to limit the likelihood of becoming embroiled in a social media furore.” She added that the chances of an online controversy seem far higher this year than they did when she stopped running Page Two in 2015 – just one year ago.
“Between social media vigilantes and a litigious, thin-skinned leadership,” she said, “it’s just not worth the risk. Even as an anonymous site, they’re walking a fine line.”
Predictably, the Burma Tha Din Network could not be reached for comment.
Merely joking that “The Lady” is, in fact, a clone could be grounds to get the anonymous editors jailed under the auspices of the Telecommunications Law.