Govt stops Ra­dio Free Asia from broad­cast­ing here

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

A US broad­caster is stopped from broad­cast­ing in the coun­try through its lo­cal part­ner af­ter it re­fused to stop us­ing the word “Ro­hingya” to re­fer to Mus­lims in north­ern Rakhine State.

A US govern­ment-af­fil­i­ated broad­caster that pro­vides news to coun­tries in Asia where free­dom of in­for­ma­tion is re­stricted is los­ing its part­ner in Myan­mar af­ter re­fus­ing to stop us­ing the word “Ro­hingya” to de­scribe the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity liv­ing in north­ern Rakhine State.

Mon­day was the last day DVB Me­dia Group’s net­work would carry Ra­dio Free Asia’s tele­vi­sion broad­casts, RFA spokesman Ro­hit Ma­ha­jan said. He said RFA told Myan­mar author­i­ties that it was un­will­ing to bow to their pres­sure to use an­other term.

About 700,000 Mus­lims from north­ern Rakhine have fled to neigh­bor­ing Bangladesh since Myan­mar’s govern­ment launched a vi­o­lent coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign last Au­gust in west­ern Myan­mar, where most of the refugees lived. Most peo­ple in Myan­mar call Rakhine’s Mus­lims “Ben­galis” to re­flect the con­tention that they are il­le­gal mi­grants from Bangladesh rather than na­tives.

The govern­ment re­fuses to recog­nise the group as an of­fi­cial eth­nic mi­nor­ity and de­nies most of them the right to cit­i­zen­ship and its priv­i­leges.

Myan­mar is the sec­ond South­east Asian na­tion in 10 months where RFA has lost ac­cess to lo­cal broad­cast­ers. Cam­bo­dia last Au­gust pro­hib­ited lo­cal FM sta­tions from car­ry­ing RFA pro­gram­ming, one of sev­eral ac­tions re­strict­ing the me­dia in what was seen as a move to si­lence crit­i­cal voices ahead of a gen­eral elec­tion in July.

Ma­ha­jan said RFA had been broad­cast­ing on DVB’s chan­nel since early Oc­to­ber last year. A May 7 memo about DVB’s case from the govern­ment broad­cast­ing agency Myanma Ra­dio and Tele­vi­sion to pri­vate broad­cast­ers said the direct use of the “con­tro­ver­sial word was a vi­o­la­tion of con­trac­tual codes to which broad­cast­ers are bound.”

A state­ment by RFA Pres­i­dent Libby Liu pro­vided Mon­day to The As­so­ci­ated Press de­clared that the US broad­caster “will not com­pro­mise its code of jour­nal­is­tic ethics, which pro­hibits the use of slurs against eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups… Use of other terms, even those that fall short of be­ing deroga­tory, would be in­ac­cu­rate and disin­gen­u­ous to both our prod­uct and our au­di­ence.

“By for­bid­ding the use of the word… Myan­mar’s govern­ment is tak­ing an Or­wellian step in seek­ing to erase the iden­tity of a peo­ple whose ex­is­tence it would like to deny,” she said. “RFA will con­tinue to pro­vide au­di­ences in Myan­mar with ac­cess to trust­wor­thy, re­li­able jour­nal­ism, par­tic­u­larly when re­port­ing on is­sues that lo­cal and state-con­trolled me­dia ig­nores and sup­presses.”

Ma­ha­jan said RFA’s pro­gram­ming for Myan­mar would re­main avail­able on its web­site, on Face­book and YouTube and on short­wave ra­dio, and its re­porters will con­tinue to work in the coun­try.

In Cam­bo­dia, the ces­sa­tion of RFA broad­casts on lo­cal me­dia last year was fol­lowed by the clos­ing un­der pres­sure of its of­fice and in Novem­ber by the ar­rest of two of its for­mer re­porters on es­pi­onage charges that are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be at­tempts to in­tim­i­date.

RFA, which is loosely mod­eled on long­time broad­caster Ra­dio Free Europe, car­ries broad­casts to China, Cam­bo­dia, North Korea, Laos and Viet­nam as well as Myan­mar. It is funded by the US govern­ment but run by an in­de­pen­dent board.

DVB – the Demo­cratic Voice of Burma – was orig­i­nally es­tab­lished in 1992 as a short­wave ra­dio sta­tion in Nor­way to beam un­cen­sored news to Myan­mar when it was still un­der mil­i­tary rule. It did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on its re­la­tion­ship with RFA.

Photo: Phoe Wa

A man views the DVB Me­dia Web­site in The Myan­mar Times of­fice in Yan­gon on Tues­day.

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