Analytical Assessment on Challenges Facing Journalists and News Media Agencies
Background Context of Press Freedom in Myanmar
Amongst the attacks to press freedom in Myanmar’s history, military coup d’états have often proved to be the worst since the military typically commits arbitrarily arresting, detaining, violently humiliating journalists, and news media, and sometimes pressing charges against them with criminal laws.
A decade after Myanmar’s independence, the military administration, resulting from the first military take-over in 1958, banned privately owned Lu-Du (the People) and Kyae-Mone (the Mirror) newspapers for criticizing them and sent many journalists to the Great Coco Island, a penal colony.
In 1962, General Ne Win, the leader of the armed forces, staged a coup d’état and formed Union Revolutionary Council.The council curbed press freedom by shutting down all private owned newspapers. Meanwhile, many journalists faced long years sentenced in prison, likewise the political oppositions.
Again in 1988’s military takeover for the third time, numerous journalists followed the same fate as the previous ones, facing arrests and detaining.
The fourth coup d’état by the military took place on 1st February 2021. It brought the same pattern of oppression to a more substantial degree on journalists and privately-owned news media by applying the most critical restrictions to survive, including suspending licenses.
The attacks on press freedom on the fourth coup d’état hit heavier than in 1962, curtailing: hundreds of journalists have been arrested, nine news media outlets have been suspended licenses, and many journalists have suffered arrest, raids, inspecting, threats, and impediments.
Some of the detained journalists went to trials on the charge of severe criminal cases as others have undergone arbitrary arrest, long-term interrogation in investigation agencies, long-term torture under custody, and other intimidations.
A day after the coup, State Administration Council (hereafter will be termed as SAC) announced a statement to restrict press freedom on 2nd February.The council subsequently shut down nine news media outlets and raided and ransacked those offices, arrested the senior profiles, and later the reporters in those media outlets. Moreover, they filed the Irrawaddy News before the court.
Incessantly arresting the journalists and continuous raids to their offices and personal residences have forced them to internally emigrate, choose areas under the control of ethnic armed organizations, or flee abroad to ensure sustaining their journalism professions and careers.
Such a historically worst situation under SAC’s various ways of repression on news media and journalists leads to breaching press freedom, thwarting journalism works to sustain, and endangering the safety and security of journalists.
1.2.An overview: Challenges Facing News Media and Journalists within 11 Months
he History of Journalism in Myanmar’ mentions that only seven newspapers survived numerous attacks on press freedom in 1972 even though there were up to 40 privately-owned newspapers before Ne Win’s coup in 1962. The history repeats on 1st February 2021, vanishing privately-owned newspapers and periodicals.
More than a month after the coup, revoking media licenses, planning raids to media houses, and arresting journalists continued. The conditions headed not only to vanish weekly or monthly periodicals but also to shut down broadcasting and online media outlets. It impacts the worst impairment to both freedoms of information and press freedom for Myanmar’s media landscape.
Arresting hundreds of journalists, assaulting them with mischiefs, pressing them to the court for felonies severely affect sustaining media agencies and journalism productions.
With the increasing number of arrests of journalists and journalism-related careers, many journalists across the country cannot perform their functions and have been forced to flee from their residences and offices. Many news media and journalists find it a significant attack on their freedom, safety, and security.
In addition to revoking media licenses, arresting journalists, facing trials from different prisons, experiencing thwarts and intimidations, fleeing from their working environments, and raiding and suppressing media agencies to courts have influenced shutting down the publications of printed media outlets and around 40 online news agencies. The circumstances to curb press freedom and violate the people’s right to information became a military tactic to oppress media agencies. In other words, it is also one of the disinformation acts by SAC.
Added to their worst and violent repressions, SAC has continued various approaches: revoking media licenses, terminating broadcasting channels, torturing, arresting, and persecuting journalists, raiding, and ransacking media houses, applying criminal procedures and laws, and amending laws to counter journalists and media agencies.
Other than amending laws to repress journalists and the media sector more than a month after the coup, SAC criminalized the journalists for severe punishment, ignoring News Media Law provisions.Some of the journalists have been facing trials under the Penal code and there have been 48 journalists arrested.
Out of the arrested, most of the detained journalists followed judiciary procedures after transferring to police stations from the military interrogations where they suffered harsh torments and threats.
In the postcoup, the safety and security of the journalists themselves and their family members are also in danger. Their family members get arrested even if a targeted journalist was not.
In certain cases, the situation worsens when SAC arrests former journalists who are not anymore in the media industry: threatening the safety and security of the ones with experience in journalism in the past.
During the eleven months after the coup, 141journalists (115male and 26female) were arrested. Thirteen journalists (9 male and 4female) were sentenced to imprisonment on criminal charges. On 20th June, SAC released 14 journalists with amnesty across the country. Again on 18th, 19th, and 20th October, 18 journalists got amnesty. Ninety-three journalists have been released since SAC detained 61journalists only for a few moments or days. Meanwhile, 30 male and 3 female journalists have been warranted: 27journalists face trials in special courts from February to December.
The post-coup situation is an evidentiary period when the journalists’ justice, freedom, and rights are harshly challenged with the lack of press freedom, safety, and security of journalists, perseverance of the media sector.
Unit 2:SAC’s Repressions on the Freedom and Rights of News Media and Journalists
2.1 SAC’s Repression on Press Freedom
A day after the coup, SAC announced a statement, dated 2nd February, curbing press freedom. In that announcement of the Ministry of Information refereeing SAC’s Order 1/2021, it described “not to make posting rumors on social media; releasing statements tooccur riot and unstable situation and announced (media organizations) to cooperate with the government in accordance with the existing laws.” By denouncing press freedom as if creating rumors or invoking via news, SAC initiated its earliest step curbing press freedom.
The next step became restricting the terms in mentioning the military council. The ministry, appointed by SAC, sent Myanmar Press Council a derivative, dated 11th February, to immediate the media agencies ‘according to journalism ethic’ for not using ‘Regime or Junta’ when mentioning SAC.
The derivative includes journalists and media organizations needs to operate according to existing laws, elaborating Section 4, Article 9 (a) and (b) of News Media Law, and Section 4, Article 8 (a) and (b) of Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law, thus journalists and media organizations requires to exercise journalism ethics by not mistakenly using the terms such as ‘junta’ or ‘regime’.
As seen in the following photo, the Ministry of Information also sent warning letters to the media agencies not to use such terms about SAC, threatening those actions would be taken if not followed the instruction.
A few days after the coup, such a warning letter illustrates that the right to access information and other journalistic rights are harshly violated. Moreover, it is a fact that SAC disregards the rights and freedom meant for journalists and media agencies provided by existing New Media Law.
In a Security, Peace and Stability and Rule of Law Committee meeting held on 28th September, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the SAC leader, reportedly claimed:
Local and international media and online media caused to deteriorate the security and the rule of law; Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Information must control the media and consider the age range of journalists.
Later, the mentioned derivative was distributed to all subordinate government agencies in different states and regions.
The SAC’s derivative has created even more rigid control over the news media. Consequently, SAC endorses an Amendment on Television and Radio Broadcasting Law to repress the news media industry further.
Besides, the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism sent a letter dated 22nd November to the hoteliers warning of punishments for any service for TV channel access to DVB, Myanmar Now, Mizzima, 7 Days, and Khit-thit Media, which were banned since 8th March.