Fellow AC blogger Francis Wade has been blogging about the recent violence in Burma (Myanmar) and well as it is not directly Thailand related – and there are still so many Thailand issues to blog about – BP has not commented on the violence although have been following it, but two op-eds in The Nation by Zay Wynn Naung of Eleven Media sparked BP’s interest.

First op-ed is entitled “No ethnic hatred“. Some key excerpts:

This violence was not a religious riot as mentioned by foreign media. While the construction of a mosque near the site of the World Trade Centre in New York was not allowed, there is a mosque located near the famous Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. Hindu temples and Christian churches are located side-by-side near Buddhist monasteries in Myanmar. Religious festivals are joyously celebrated in the country. Not only ethnic groups but also various religions have suffered under the brutal military regime in different eras. However, the ethnic groups did not create the problems. Buddhists are living peacefully with members of other religions.

The reports by some foreign media were extremely biased. If local media are accused of bias in reporting the side of Myanmar nationals, it can also be concluded that foreign media are siding with the Rohingyas.

Some foreign newspapers and media put the losses of the so-called Rohingyas out of proportion. Four reporters of the Eleven Media Group were covering the violence in Rakhine state, but the reports by foreign journalists were totally different from the actual events in Rakhine state and the reports of Eleven Media journalists. They should go to the scene in person to see for themselves. They even wrongly mentioned that the Rakhine state is the land of the Rohingyas. Photos of burnt Rakhine houses were just captioned as the destroyed houses of locals. Photos of Rohingyas who were holding kerosene containers, kerosene torches and various weapons were not posted; foreign media mentioned the Rakhine people who were protecting their property by holding bamboo weapons and patrolling by motorbike. If we did not have photos, people across the world would believe their lopsided reports.

Second op-ed is entitled “Rakhine strife misreported“. Some key excerpts:

Thomas Fuller of the New York Times wrote a news article from Thailand entitled “Crisis in Myanmar Over Buddhist-Muslim Clash”. His article triggered a series of religious riots. He also mentioned that “the Eleven Media Group, a publisher of one of the country’s leading weekly newspapers, displayed a string of hateful comments about Muslims from readers”. His next article was headlined “Internet Unshackled, Burmese Aim Venom at Ethnic Minority”. Foreign media reported that online communities in Myanmar are fuelling violence with hateful comments.

Foreign media and Myanmar journalists working in foreign-based media have said that Myanmar people should not be allowed to have freedom of expression. This deserves further scrutiny.

BP: First, Eleven Media is a media group in Myanmar who have signed a joint publishing venture. So should we expect more such op-eds that foreigners have got the situation all wrong?

Second, the article triggered a series of religious riots? Really??? A domestic journal was suspended for publishing a photo of a Buddhist woman who was raped and murdered because this was viewed as sparking the riots, but how did the New York Times trigger the violence? Have a read of the New York Times article here. It seems the mention by the NYT of Eleven Media has sparked annoyance/anger and hence they will blame the NYT for all. Here is what was said in the first NYT article entitled “Crisis in Myanmar Over Buddhist-Muslim Clash”:

In one sign that passions are running high, the Web site of the Eleven Media Group, a publisher of one of the country’s leading weekly newspapers, displayed a string of hateful comments about Muslims from readers.

“Terrorist is terrorist,” wrote one reader who signed in as Maungpho. “Just kill them.”

The second NYT article entitled “Internet Unshackled, Burmese Aim Venom at Ethnic Minority” is here. Key excerpt:

“The lid of authoritarianism has come off, and people finally have the freedom to express themselves,” said U Aung Naing Oo, the author of “Dialogue,” a book about conflict resolution in Myanmar’s fractious society. “All these grievances have come out,” and “the voices of reason are on the sidelines for now.”

When the discovery of a “Rohingya body” was announced Thursday on the Facebook page of the Eleven Media Group, one of the largest private media organizations in Myanmar, one reader, Pyaephyo Aung, wrote that he had been “waiting for this kind of news for a long time.” Another reader, Ko Nyi, used a racial slur and said, “It’s not even enough that he is dead.”

In online forums, Rohingya are referred to as dogs, thieves, terrorists and various expletives. Commenters urge the government to “make them disappear” and seem particularly enraged that Western countries and the United Nations are highlighting their plight.

Eleven Media Group had previously issued a strong statement criticizing the foreign media. One odd part:

Moreover, the AFP news agency also stated on 7 June that police forces are shooting the mobs. Their news mentioned the conflict between Muslims and Rakhine people. The truth is that no police fired on the rioters. Only Rohingyas killed Rakhine people and burned down their houses.

BP: Only? Only Rohingyas killed others? So does this mean no Rohingyas were killed including those that were killed by mob violence? How can there be a Rohingya body if no Rohingya were killed? Read the rest of the statement…

Such comments are not isolated. Read any article about the violence online and you will see very strong responses – see one of Francis’ articles here. Strong statements about the Rohingya have also been made by some democracy activists.  The Eleven Media response is typical of  nationalist responses. Nowhere in the article is there any mention that people in Myanmar should not be allowed to have freedom of expression. It seems merely quoting comments online and pointing out what they are saying is enough to incur wrath of the domestic media.

The situation reminds BP a bit of Thailand? (see here, here, here, here, and here for some examples of the similar phenomenon in Thailand).

*Have made some changes to the article just after it was published. Clicked publish to soon without tidying. No points have been changed, just have made it more readable.