Western double standards in Myanmar reporting

BY SUBIR BHAUMIK| IN Media Practice | 25/11/2017
The western media has taken a line on the Rohingya crisis and anything that contradicts that line, such as jihadi barbarism, is ignored


The Western press is going all out to expose Burmese military atrocities in Rakhine. There is nothing wrong with that. 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 Western media seem to be following the same stereotype on the Rohingyas as in other conflict zones. A narrative is set in the early stages of the conflict and all subsequent reporting is a series of head-over-heels efforts to prove it. 

Now while exposing Burmese military atrocities is perfectly legitimate, here is a huge story the Western media has totally missed out on. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked 30 police stations and killed 13 policemen on the night of 24-25 August. The coverage of their brutality on that night was brief.

Nor have the western media cared to report on the killings of 37 Rohingya elders in northern Rakhine between the ARSA’s first serial attack in October 10 last year and the Augusst 24-25 attacks this year. The ARSA, like any Pakistan-sponsored jihadi group, is keen to eliminate all rivals in their own ethnic space. That is their first target. Those of their kinsmen who fall in line live; the rest die.

So if you are an Abdul Majid Dar or an Andul Ghani Lone in Kashmir, you die. If you are Al Shah Geelani, who follows Pakistani and jihadi dictates, you live happily and receipt of considerable funds is assured. The LTTE in Sri Lanka also eliminated all their rivals. The ARSA's efforts to eliminate all moderate Rohingyas capable of negotiating with the Myanmar government is a story the Western media have not bothered to cover because it does not fit into their pre-conceived narrative.

There is more.

Since August 24-25, the Myanmar government has tried to expedite the distribution of National Verification Cards (NVCs) to Rohingyas in Northern Rakhine. The ARSA has opposed the distribution of the NVCs because it is against attempts to integrate the community. The NVC is a precursor to Myanmar citizenship but the ARSA wants an Islamic Republic of Northern Rakhine and therefore they are determined to scuttle the NVC distribution.

For the kind information of the Big Foots from London and New York, 18 Rohingya elders have been killed by the ARSA so far because they were mobilising the Rohingyas to enrol for NVCs and getting them to collect the cards. Three other Rohingyas are missing. The bodies of Rohingyas are surfacing  in remote villages of Northern Rakhine with throats slit, hands tied - the signature jihadi murder style from Raqqa to Kashmir to Mindanao in the Philippines. Yet it wasn’t a story for western journalists.

If it is balance they seek, then the ideal story for the moment is the Devil-Deep Sea situation in which the Rohingyas are trapped. The government is trying to bail them out of that situation but Aung San Suu Kyi's task is not easy. She has to deal with the security threat perception pervading the defence forces, the anger in Rakhine and among Buddhists elsewhere over the jihadi strikes, and global pressure on alleged human rights violations. But her administration, for instance, has not stopped vaccination programmes in Northern Rakhine, despite the obvious security threats. 

Access to Rakhine is a valid issue raised by the west but even if it were granted, I am fairly sure the western press will use it only to hunt for stories of military atrocities and not of ARSA barbarism.

They did the same in Afghanistan where they made a hero of the very jihadis who later turned their guns on America and the West. 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 in a strategic area connecting South to South-east Asia and they want to upturn the secular regime of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh by playing up a radical jihadi narrative on the borderlands that can drown the dominant force of secular Bengali nationalism that thrives on the glory of the Bengali language and culture and not on fundamentalist Islam. 

The Islam of undivided Bengal was syncretic and though Partition impacted that adversely, a liberal syncretic Islam is practised by most. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have funded radical forces in different ways in Bangladesh to change that. Terrorists backed by them have attacked Baul singers and secular bloggers who represent the syncretic culture at the folk level. But so long as the secular regime remains in power, Bangladesh remains a Dar ul Harb and not a Dar Ul Islam. 

Recently Associated Press (AP) was exposed for misreporting even direct quotes from Aung San Suu Kyi at the ASEM foreign ministers’ conference to give the impression that she blamed the spread of terrorism on Islam. AP had to run a corrected story but by then its first story had been picked up by scores of top papers all over the West.

It is difficult to say whether this was deliberate but the dominant narrative sits so heavy on all Western reporters that they are always found seeking material to fit their preconceptions. The Myanmar Press Council and the Myanmar Journalists Association launched staunch protests against the AP story because it occurred at a crucial time when Myanmar and Bangladesh were trying to negotiate an agreement on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. 

The New York Times and other big dailies have attacked Aung San Suu Kyi for the atrocities, even whipping up a campaign that her Nobel Prize should be taken back. It is Suu Kyi who set up the Kofi Annan Commission despite severe objections from the army. Then she decided to implement its recommendations, again over-ridding objections from the army. But that very day, the ARSA staged attacks and the army came back heavily to tell the Lady enough is enough.

The Burmese army is structurally empowered by the 2008 constitution: three serving generals head the home, defence and border affairs ministries and the emergency provisions provide for the military taking charge in the event of a national security crisis.

Suu Kyi has bravely stalemated the army's attempt to declare a regional emergency in Rakhine. She has undertaken a bold civilian initiative to rebuild Rakhine with help from Burmese business groups. And she has promised to implement the Kofi Annan Commission report in phases, of which the verification for citizenship of Rohingyas is a part. But the Western press does not talk of any of these things.  


The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More