As Myanmar’s Rakhine crisis deepens, so does state bid for media control

In just two weeks, clashes between insurgents and Myanmar’s military have driven almost 400,000 Rohingya refugees into neighboring Bangladesh – as many refugees as crossed the Mediterranean in all of 2016.

The government says it is waging a legitimate campaign against Rohingya “terrorists;” the Rohingya say they are being forcibly expelled – a view the United Nations’ human rights chief endorsed on Monday, saying the situation “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The Rohingya, a Muslim minority of about 1 million, have lived in northern Rakhine state for generations, yet are largely deprived of citizenship, making them the world’s largest stateless population

The escalation of the long-simmering crisis has brought enormous international pressure upon Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, to condemn alleged military excesses – especially as the UN Security Council convenes Wednesday to discuss the situation. 

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Instead, the former dissident has turned to state media to marshal support for the military, while her government has accused international aid groups of supporting the militants, and suggested that reporters are producing “supportive writings.” During her combined 15 years of house arrest under the military governments, which ruled for half a century, Ms. Suu Kyi’s fight for democracy was sustained by coverage in exiled Myanmar media. But now in power, her administration is accused of stifling the free press while endorsing the state mouthpieces inherited from her erstwhile military captors.

Her defenders argue she is hamstrung. Despite her elected administration’s overwhelming democratic mandate, it’s constitutionally obliged to share power with the autonomous military. 

But the administration’s use of propaganda goes beyond a reluctance to criticize their co-rulers, says Mark Farmaner, director of the human rights group Burma Campaign UK.

“By standing shoulder to shoulder with the military, [Suu Kyi] has bought into the narrative they use to justify their behavior, that the nation is under serious threat from foreign terrorists. Now her government is propagating that narrative, which is increasing tensions and the likelihood of further violence,” he says.


Last week, in her first statement since the crisis flared last month, Suu Kyi slammed a “huge iceberg of…

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