Is the Western media really biased on Rohingyas?

BY MUHAMMED SABITH| IN Media Practice | 03/12/2017
There are instances in Bhaumik’s article which make one wonder whether it was written to defend and justify actions of the Myanmar authorities.
MUHAMMED SABITH's counter to SUBIR BHAUMIK's article



This is a response to the article titled “Western double standards in Myanmar reporting”, written by Subir Bhaumik and published in The Hoot on November 25.

Bhaumik’s article was dealing with an alleged double-standard among Western media in reporting the Rohingyan crisis. But the article itself is not free from its own double-standard and bias.

He wrote that “the Western media seem to be following the same stereotype on the Rohingyas as in other conflict zones”, without elaborating on those ‘other conflict zones’ where the Western media followed the ‘same stereotype’.

The author said: “This morning I saw a short BBC documentary "Massacre at Tula Toli" on one village. The story comes from a Rohingya refugee family in a Northern Rakhine village, and while the woman claiming the massacre of her family by soldiers looks genuine, she could well be exaggerating. There is no effort by the BBC to check back in Rakhine on her claims though they have Burmese reporters in the Yangon bureau - Burmese reporters are considered second class in the BBC.”

The Tula Toli massacre is, according to the reports by international media like The Guardian and human rights groups like Amnesty, a horrific state-sponsored violence on a civilian population. Myanmar’s armed forces raided a Rohingyan village, Tula Toli, murdered hundreds of civilians including children, and brutally raped several women, on August 30.

The author tries to discredit the horror of a female survivor of the massacre, who appeared in a BBC documentary. While suggesting that the survivor could be exaggerating her unfortunate experience, he didn’t provide any evidence for this. He also almost completely ignored the content of the documentary, which has rich details of horrific violence of the Myanmar army.

The BBC documentary, along with other evidences of this particular Rohingyan massacre, narrates how brutally the Rohingyan civilians were being attacked by the Myanmar forces. Well, as per the author’s standard, they all “could well be exaggerating”!

Bhaumik accuses the BBC of not cross-checking the testimonies of the massacre survivors with the broadcaster’s reporters who are also Myanmar nationals.

This is a problematic accusation. The documentary reveals that the BBC team has spoken to six survivors of the massacre, and cross-referenced their testimonies with video evidences, with interviews conducted by human rights organisations, and with maps of the local areas.

Another important point that needs to be noticed in the context of the ‘absence’ of Myanmar reporters in the production of the documentary is that we don’t, even more surprisingly, read, or watch, any media content produced by a Rohingyan reporter. At least I couldn’t find any journalist with Rohingyan origin in the whole picture. Why? And, does it disturb us?

Recent reports suggest that Myanmar authorities were particularly targeting Rohingyan citizen journalists who, often using their smart phones, informed the world what’s happening in their state of Rakhine, where foreign media have little access to.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that a section of international media showed some sympathy for an ethnic minority community that has been, as documented in this Al-Jazeera documentary, at the receiving end of a state-sponsored violence, which is described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Is such sympathy wrong? Is it in fact not part of the very practice called journalism?


Whitewashing crimes of Myanmar authorities?

There are instances in Bhaumik’s article which make one wonder whether it was written to defend and justify the actions of Myanmar authorities.

On the controversial initiative of the Myanmar government to speed up the distribution of National Verification Cards (NVCs) to Rohingyas, which the author calls an attempt of the government to “to integrate” the community, the author was ignoring serious allegations on the real objectives of the government behind the move.

The author also makes an unjust comparison between the Myanmar army and ARSA militants. He suggests that the Myanmar army  and ARSA are equally dangerous for the  Rohingyas, and goes on to say that the government was trying “to bail out” Rohingyas from this “Devil-Deep Sea” situation.

And, in an apparent defence of the Myanmar authorities in its denial of international media access to Rakhine state, where members of an ethnic group were reported to have been massacred, the author states that he is “fairly sure the western press will use it [the access to Rakhine state] only to hunt for stories of military atrocities and not of ARSA barbarism”.


ARSA is part of ‘global forces of radical Islam’

The article attempts to draw parallel between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and Pakistan-sponsored militants in Kashmir.“The ARSA, like any Pakistan-sponsored jihadi group, is keen to eliminate all rivals in their own ethnic space,” writes Bhaumik.

But is such a comparison fundamentally just?  The issues of Kashmir and Rakhine are different from one to another. And there is little evidence to suggest that ARSA has foreigners as its members.

While the author argues that the ARSA is keen “to eliminate all rivals in their own ethnic space” and has made efforts “to eliminate all moderate Rohingyas capable of negotiating with the Myanmar government”, he did not provide any convincing evidence for these claims.

An expert with the European Center for the Study of Extremism, Cambridge, compared the ARSA’s low scale militancy with that of “Jewish inmates at Auschwitz who rose up against the Nazis in October 1944."

However, unlike what the author claims, the attacks allegedly carried out by the ARSA against Myanmar security forces is neither ‘totally missed out’ nor ‘brief’ in the Western media. Those attacks were given proportionate coverage by many of them. Those reports found space in, among others, BBC, Reuters, New York Times, The Guardian, and Washington Post.

Bhaumik further writes: “After Afghanistan and Iraq-Syria and Kashmir, there is no reason to downplay the threat to Myanmar and Bangladesh from radical Islam, which seeks to turn Rakhine into a jihadi theatre. The threat is real because the global forces of radical Islam want to achieve two objectives in Rakhine. They want to create an Islamist enclave … and they want to upturn the secular regime of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh …”

While his concerns regarding the threat from Islamic terrorists in different parts of the world are valid, I feel that connecting everything from Afghanistan, Iraq-Syria and Kashmir with the Rohingya issue is clearly an attempt to mislead. Several reports suggest that ARSA is an indigenous, poorly equipped, militant group that emerged in the backdrop of continuing injustice and rights abuse experienced by Rohingya civilians, at the hands of Myanmar government and military. A Guardian report, relying on an international NGO that has been documenting human rights abuses in Rakhine, says that the Rohingya rebels are “too weak to seriously challenge the Myanmar armed forces”.

Do we have any concrete evidence to say that Rohingya militants are part of the ‘global forces of radical Islam’?  Just because ARSA militants are Muslims, can we say that they are part of a global network?  The author could have written a separate piece to expose the violent Islamism and its threats to an inclusive society, instead of mixing up various global developments with the Rohingyan civilian crisis, so as to put the blame for their plight on themselves.


Muhammed Sabith, a journalist and researcher, can be reached at


The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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