Mys­te­ri­ous satir­i­cal site re­launches

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - RJ VOGT rj.vogt@mm­times.com

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.

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