Reporters Without Borders hails yesterday’s European Parliament resolution on the plight of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims, who are not only persecuted by the authorities and denied Burmese citizenship, but also denied access to news and information and subjected to an information blackout.
“We welcome the European Parliament’s calls for journalists to be given unrestricted access to sensitive regions of Burma such as the western state of Arakan, where people of Rohingya origin are in the majority,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The disinformation about the recent violent rioting, in which the security forces have usually looked on without intervening, must stop. It is just exacerbating racist attitudes towards the Rohingyas.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We urge the European Union, the 2012 Nobel peace laureate, to undertake to ensure that the Burmese authorities heed the injunctions of its parliament.”
Passed on the last day of a four-day plenary session in Strasbourg, the resolution blamed the current ethnic violence on policies that discriminate against the Rohingyas.
Article 5 of the resolution urged the Burmese authorities to “provide UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs, as well as journalists and diplomats, with unhindered access to all areas of the country, including Rakhine state, and to give unrestricted and full access to humanitarian aid for all communities affected by conflict and sectarian violence.”
Burma’s ethnic violence and rioting erupted at the end of May 2012, after the rape and murder of a young Rakhine Buddhist woman was blamed on three Rohingyas, whose photos were posted on online social networks.
While the large volume of comments and opinions posted online testified to an increase in Internet freedom in Burma, the constant mention of the ethnic origins of the victims and suspects quickly imposed one-sided and distorted interpretations of this horrific crime.
Many foreign journalists who went to Burma to cover the crisis found themselves being harassed and threatened by the local population, while the government tried to suppress information and did not comment on the unrest until five days after President Thein Sein proclaimed a state of emergency.
When the weekly Snapshot (Hlyat Tabyet in Burmese) published a photo of the rape victim on 9 June 2012, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division suspended its licence indefinitely the same day.
Several foreign media were the targets of smear campaigns waged through street protests and online posts. The BBC and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) were among those accused of biased coverage of the inter-communal violence, while the DVB website was the target of repeated cyber-attacks.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its recommendations for Burmese and foreign journalists and other news providers who, directly or indirectly, cover the sensitive issue of Burma’s Rohingya minority.
In the absence of a satisfactory legal framework offering real protection to all the media, and bearing in mind the polarization and/or inexperience of some Burmese journalists:
1) News organizations must urgently remind their journalists of the requirements of professional ethics and must organize special meetings on covering the crisis.
2) In view of the varying levels of human and financial resources available to different media, reporters should be given accelerated special training to prepare them for the security problems they could encounter while covering the conflicts in Arakan state.
3) The media community should work together to find solutions to the obstacles preventing access to information, to the security problems for reporters visiting conflict-ridden areas, to the breaches of professional ethics and to the need for all media to implement international journalistic standards.
Read the special report entitled “Crisis in Arakan state and new threats to freedom of information” that Reporters Without Borders published on 28 June 2012.
Photo : Soe Than WIN / AFP