The most important thing for every dictator after their coup is to control the News Industry and so the same approach was done by the Myanmar military, just after the coup on 1st February, 2021. Well-known media houses had their media licenses revoked and some shut down and freelance and full-time journalists, and media professionals have been being targeted and hunted down by the SAC’s security forces for breaking media laws and especially, Article 505(a) of penal code which is charged for spreading fake news and fraud. Currently, Journalists are confronting so many challenges to continue their works and then to fight for and restore Media Freedom.
This article is going to demonstrate what kinds of challenges the Journalists have been dealing with since 1st February and what sort of international support they need for their survival and safety in order to ensure them to keep fighting for Press Media Freedom and democracy for Myanmar.
Challenges for Myanmar Journalists
In February 2021, the State Administration Council, on the coup date, temporarily cut off all forms of telecommunication and connections around the country and could control all offline and online media platforms. On 4 February, when the country-wide protests began, Journalists took the role to present true stories and cover protest news and fulfil the right to information for the public.
However, Kyaw Zey Win, a video Journalist, who was covering the news stories about street protest demonstrations in Mandalay, was arrested on 9 February and he got some kinds of physical beatings from the police but later he was let go for revealing himself as a journalist. On 14 February, the SAC reformed Article 505(a) of penal code and media laws and the punishment is determined by 3 years in prison for spreading false information. The law even prohibits mentioning the words like junta, coup and regime in the news. In the last week of February, over 17 journalists around the country like Dawei, Yangon, Mandalay and Mawlamyine were arrested and some were picked up at their own homes at late night.
Ye Wint Thu, DVB Journalist coveringanti-coup protests in Yangon, Myanmar - May 3, 2021
In March, all the media licenses for their editorial independence such as Democratic Voice of Burma, Mizzima, Myanmar Now, Khit Thit Media and 7 days News were suspended and Journalists from those five media tried to escape from the security forces but some were arrested. After that, other media outlets that commit spreading fake news or information which affects the military reputation had their media licenses suspended or revoked. On 17 March, a new decree by the SAC was announced and death sentence is imposed for 23 crimes with no possibility of appeal which includes violating the new media laws and spreading false news.
In April, a blacklist of Journalists wanted for spreading fake or false information about the SAC or for involving or affiliating with National Unity Government - NUG was broadcasted everyday in the military-owned media, Myawady and published in posters around the markets.
In May, Ko Min Nyo, DVB Journalist, was sentenced to three years for violating the media laws and 505(a) of penal code, and US citizen Danny Fenster, the managing editor of the Frontier Myanmar news magazine, was arrested at the Yangon International Airport and detained 25 days under the violation of same penal code 505(a).
In June, July, August and September, Aung Kyaw, a DVB reporter; Zaw Zaw, a freelancer for Mizzima News and Aung Mya Than, Ayeyarwady Times reporter were sentenced to two years to jail under the article 505(a) of penal code. Zaw Moe Oo, a journalist in Eleven Media, Sithu Aung, a columnist for the independent Frontier Myanmar magazine and a commentator for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America and Htet Htet Khine, the presenter of programme called “Khan Sar Kyi” (Burmese for “Feel it”) for BBC Media Action were arrested and are now under detention. Same arrest cases of many other Journalists around the country, especially in the capital cities, were reported as well.
Journalists run as riot police officers advance them during a rallyagainst the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar - Feb. 27, 2021.(DVB)
According to Reporting ASEAN reported on 27 September, there are 102 journalists under arrest, 48 in detention and some sentenced to the prison and, now Myanmar ranks 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index for putting Journalists in jail and restricting Media Freedom.
Journalists were arrested at their own homes, some cases in the streets while covering the protest news and some on the airport departure. It is commonly reported that when being arrested, they are beaten with police batons, faces covered with masks, hands tied, faces stepped by feet and punched, and dragged along to the vehicles. The worst thing is that if the journalists were not found at their own homes, their family members like fathers, mothers or sons or daughters were arrested to compel them to come and get arrested.
Now, everywhere in Myanmar, Journalists and media outlets are being on a close watch and being hunted down. This clearly states that Journalists in Myanmar require international support for attempts to reclaim press freedom and restore democracy. Obviously, it is not enough just by showing your disagreements and condemns against the authoritarian regime in Myanmar in the ways of just publishing your STATEMENTS. It is time to take practical actions to help our journalists.
Need for International Support
Dear the International Communities, you are strongly suggested to help us fight for Media Freedom and provide necessary support for Journalists. The following recommendations are the author-opinioned and are subject to better changes.
i) Neighboring countries, especially India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos to help the journalists to take sanctuary and give necessary safety assistance
ii) International Funding Organizations and Media Partners in ASEAN countries and also in the world to provide necessary funds and operational support to Myanmar Journalists abroad
iii) Aid the Journalists in search for safe houses, and secure working and living environments to continue their works
iv) To cooperate with Journalists and publish their collected news and stories about current political conditions in Myanmar
v) To support Journalists abroad in establishing Myanmar Journalists Association and its activities to keep fighting for Media Freedom
vi) To watch closely the SAC’s attempted threats overseas toward well-known Journalists and Media Organizations and provide necessary security protection
vii) To help the Journalists as possible as you can, in their endeavours for restoring Media Freedom and Democracy for Myanmar
Currently, in Myanmar, political situations impose hazardous working conditions to Journalists and the SAC orders the security forces to issue warrants, arrest the Journalists and press charges for breaking media laws and article 505(a) of penal code. Numerous well-known and well-experienced media professionals and Journalists are now in jail, waiting for either their deaths or final sentences and we are not sure of how many quality human resources in Journalism field will be lost in the coming future. Therefore, I am with serious intention writing this article to advocate any international media organizations or community organizations to protect our Journalists and to fight for media freedom in Myanmar.
To conclude, I do not want the world to stop there just by issuing “STATEMENTS” to show your concern towards Journalists in Myanmar and would like any parties to take more steps and practical actions for them and the recommended actions are already demonstrated above. I am really concerned about Media Freedom in my country, Myanmar because without it, the criminals and responsible persons will always be free from their sins and crimes and keep suppressing people and violating human rights. The justice for all must prevail and lie upon every single place on earth. Therefore, it would be really supportive and effective if the international communities could take realistic and practical actions to protect lives of Myanmar Journalists within the country and abroad. The actions always speak louder than STATEMENTS and the press is under attack. Journalists do require your kind help.