Since the coup on February 1st 2021, more than 600 people have died in Myanmar while standing up against the military dictatorship. The junta has imposed strict control over local media outlets.
The current situation there bears much semblance to what happened in Gwangju in May 1980. In their democratic struggle, protesters are putting their lives at risk. What does the future hold for them? To deepen our readers’ understanding, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa will be publishing special reports written by local journalists- Saw Yan Naing and his colleagues. Saw Yan Naing is a veteran reporter who has written for The Irrawaddy, BBC Burmese, Global Investigative Journalism Network, and more. - Editor’s Note
In Myanmar, people are not allowed to use mobile data with smart phones since the military leaders have cut the internet access after the military coup on 1 Feb. But wired Internet networks are still connected, users can use Internet where LANS and Wi-Fi are located. To broadcast or publish news of the situation on the anti-coup protest, reporters and citizens have no choice to go places with wired Internet or Wi-Fi. Access to information is blocked. Furthermore, state-run media is covering the eyes of the people in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s State-owned Media are Hiding Truth of Massacre
After the coup, state-run media published and broadcast only propaganda. State-owned media such as Myawaddy TV and MRTC’s reports and broadcasting are totally different from what is happening in real live. They discredit protesters saying that they are terrorists. They show pictures of arrested protesters and display some explosive materials and equipment which is in fact not belong to the protesters.
On April 18, The security forces arrested 18 young people who travel by car in Bago region in north-east Yangon. The junta accused the young people of receiving military training from ethnic armed groups and they came back from ethnic rebels’ territories. This is how the state-run media broadcast propaganda, said Wai Yan(not a real name), a reporter of Democratic Voice of Burma(DVB). He said that he learned the real stories after talking to relatives and family members of those who were arrested, detained and charged by the security forces. The relatives told him that the young people travel for their own business and have nothing to do with ethnic armed groups.
“The security forces brutally beaten the young people. When we saw them on TV, their faces contained serious bruises. Because of the injuries on their faces, we don’t even recognize them,” said Wai Yan.
On March 27, Burmese military troops shot three young people riding motorcycle on a street in Dawei city, southern Burma. One of out three young men was hit by the bullet and fell from the bike. The soldiers on the truck then step down and went to beat the three young men. The incident was recorded on a CCTV nearby, clearly showing the military troops opened fire and beat the young men.
▲ CCTV captured the Burmese army shooting three young men.
The three young people weren’t joining the CDM nor got involved in protest. The military troops shot everyone they came across during their mission of crackdown. They indiscriminately shot people.
The young man Kyaw Min Latt, 17-year-old who fell from the bike, died. He was shot on his head. The military regime, however, announced that the young man died from serious injury on his head. The military authority also published death certificate, stating that the young man fell from the bike and got serious injury on his head leading to his death.
▲ Death certificate of Kyaw Min Latt released by the Burmese authorities.
The state-run media also try to tell beautiful stories about Myanmar such as celebration of Burmese New Year also known as water festival and other religious events. The state-owed media often show the junta’s chief Min Aung Hlaing visiting monks, paying homage and contributing donations.
The junta also show how it manage economic properly with cooperation of neighbors including members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The junta also show that it managed to handle Covid-19 situation in Myanmar and continued to receive more vaccines. On March 27, the state-owned media also broadcast the celebration of Armed Force Day known as Tatmadaw Day. On the same day, the junta’s jet fighters dropped bombs in ethnic Karen State, south-eastern Myanmar forcing thousands of Karen villagers to flee home. The news of air strikes launched by the junta against the ethnic Karen villagers, however, was not showed on the state-run TV.
71 Journalists Arrested, 5 Independent Media Cancelled
As of April 29, at least 71 journalists have been arrested since the February coup and 48 still remain in detention, according to an international human rights monitoring group, Human Rights Watch.
The security forces searched journalists’ houses, released list of wanted journalists who are in hiding. Some former journalists who don’t work in media field anymore were also included in arrest warrant’s list released by the junta, according to Wai Yan.
On March 8 the junta also revoked licenses of five independent media(Mizzima, Myanmar Now, 7 Day News and Khit Thit Media) organizations including Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) where reporter Wai Yan works. The junta’s ministry of information also banned the five media outlets from publishing, broadcasting, or using any kind of platforms for news reporting.
During in custody, the whereabouts of the detained journalists are not disclosed so their family members couldn’t contact them and they don’t know their wellbeing. They were also beaten by prison authorities during detention. Their equipment such as camera, telephones, recorders, laptops were seized by the security forces, according to Wai Yan.
The junta used violence during nighttime raids to arrest journalists, said Wai Yan.
His fellow journalist Aung Kyaw who work for the DVB is now detained by the junta.
“When they [military soldiers] went to arrest my colleague Ko Aung Kyaw, they opened fires at his apartment. They intentionally fired at him.” said Wai Yan.
The journalist Aung Kyaw also filmed the security forces when they came to arrest him at his house. Aung Kyaw also did Facebook Live streaming how his place was raided before the got arrested by the security forces. In the video, the security forces were seen outside Aung Kyaw’s apartment carried guns and fired gunshot toward the report’s place. The video also went viral on social media.
Borrowing Money from Pawnshop to Pay Reporters
“Some media completely stopped their operation, but some kept reporting using online platform. Some reporters received one- or two-month payment. But some didn’t get any payment and lost their jobs,” said Wai Yan.
However, the independent media keep reporting using digital platforms such as online and social media to report what is happening in Myanmar. Some journalists base outside Myanmar while others hide elsewhere to keep reporting news in Myanmar.
Zay Yar Min, editor-in-charge of Than Lwin Khet(an Independent media), said that payment sometimes is delayed as he hardly manages to receive money from donor organizations and sponsors. He also gave his property to pawnshops to receive loans in order to pay his reporters.
▲ Screenshot of Than Lwin Khet’s Facebook page.
Independent Media, Citizens and Youths are Joining Forces
The role of citizen journalists became crucial under the military regime. Images and videos of brutal crackdowns on anti-coup protesters we see on local and international media now are mostly documented by the citizen journalists and individual citizens. More importantly, the civilians also protected journalists and photographers who cover news on anti-coup protesters. Real time Lives can be seen on social media platforms and most of these works have done by the civilians across the country, making the security forces difficult to brutally crack down the protesters.
At a protest site in Thanton area, Karen State in southern Myanmar, a protester did a Live streaming where police forces removed their placards. In the video, it shows a police finally lost his patient and slap the protester’s phone. The protester, however, didn’t give up to end the Live. He, however, questioned the police “what are you doing to me. While you use guns, why not we use phones.”
“While you are armed, we [the protesters] don’t even have sharp tool to harm you,” the protester told the police while holding his phone doing Facebook Live streaming.
Secret videos and CCTV footages showing how the military troops and police forces brutally attacking protesters were also share on social media and even international media use some of those footage in their TV reporting. Users Generated Contents (UGC) provided by individuals become sources of evidence and greatly strength accuracy and fact-checking for the media houses.
▲ Picture displays a group of protesters in Yangon who were arrested by security forces on April 14.
“It is faster to verify fake news because the citizen journalists send evidences such as images and video recording to us. Their role became our strength. It is very supportive for media houses. Most of footages of protests and crackdowns we saw on local and international media now were documented by civilians,” said Zay Yar Min, the editor-in-charge of Than Lwin Khet.
Individual Facebook users also shared and uploaded Live streaming on social media and told media houses that they can use their video recording and no need to worry about copyrights. With an estimate 20 million Facebook users in Myanmar, the digital platform become source of information to outside world unlike anti-coups in the past in 1962 and 1988.
Apart from providing images, footages and information to media houses, the civilians also protect media workers from harm, said reporters and photographers covering anti-coup protests in Yangon. Local residents in many townships in Yangon helped journalists to hide when they were chased by the police.
Asked why they protected journalist, a middle age protester in North Okkalappa Township, Yangon said, “We need media. We rely on media. If no media is presented, they [soldiers and police] attack us brutally.”
North Okkalappa Township was one of the worst crackdown sites in Yangon region. At least 18 people died as the result of crackdown by security forces on March 3.
Despite challenges under the SAC administration, media houses vowed to continue their works. After its license was revoked, Khit Thit Media, the online media outlet, released a statement, saying that its media agency registered officially under previous government and it will continue its reporting.
Media experts also see how media, citizen journalists, youth, protesters are united and closely cooperate in reporting despite challenges. Some media organizations invite every individuals to send images, video and any evidences of abuses to them.
Zay Yar Min said, “The emergence of “citizen journalists” has changed media landscape. Especially this period, we can’t travel to cover news everywhere due to blockade of roads, insufficient funding, human resources, and equipment. The citizen journalists become storytellers.”
KCIJ-Newstapa does not accept any advertisement or commercial sponsorship. Individual citizen's voluntary support sustains Korea’s only independent investigative newsroom. You can join our 'Defenders of the Truth' now.