Published on Friday, 05 July 2013 17:58 Written by Than Htut Aung
The scene of conflict between President Morsi's supporters and protestors in Egypt (Photo:AP)
At the 11th anniversary of Eleven Media Group in 2011, I told the audience that:
1) To both the government and the Opposition, the national reconciliation was utmost important as we [the country] is located next to a powerful country. (Then it was very difficult to talk like that in our country).
2) I urged the government to open up and join the international community.
At a special forum on the Myitsone Dam Project, I talked about the project suspension as well as building a “Federal Union” which is a top national issue. (It took me two days to get a word "real union" out in the open, as it was almost impossible to use the word as "Federal" at the time.) At the same time, I said a real democratic union would spring to life if the Army as the ‘sixth pillar’ is transformed into a credible and professional establishment to work for the sake of the people and the state.
In 2012, I wrote articles under the theme "I will tell the real truth", series. In early April of that year, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a by-election landslide. On May 8, Ma Thida Htwe was killed. News and photos about her murder that was usually impossible to obtain for a normal reporter emerged on Facebook accounts of some people including government officials. I wrote (1) and (2) of the "I will tell the real truth" on May 23 and 30 last year. At that time, no Rakhine and Muslim conflicts had yet to erupt.
In all, I believe that there are three paramount issues that can derail Myanmar's reform process;
1) National ethnic issue related to forming a real Federal Union.
2) The rule of law and weak legal system.
3) Corruption and slowdown of economic progress.
My thoughts are:
There are many corrupt people in power who became rich from corruption. They don't want to see the reform go through. They would try to stop it. And the gap between classes of society will get larger. [They] would push the country into a state of unrest. The role of the Army will increase. This would possibly lead to a civil war. If another military coup comes, it will surely bring the dictatorship back to the country.
[We] should review the past-year events:
I wrote the articles "I will tell the real truth (11)" and "We Must Be Courageous in 2013" early this year. Both discussed the supporting pillars behind the dictatorship. The main pillar for the dictatorship is not the Army. Secret police force and pre-meditated propaganda campaigns are the main pillars. I pointed out that there existed then tens of thousands of faked Facebook accounts with the propaganda messages. (Parliament’s investigation into the "the report of Dr. Seik Phwar" is a case to point.) Those who want to revive dictatorship always try to control and attack the media. They have a link with the secret police and secret intelligence to get hold of some information. I wrote that they publicized their propagation in this way.
In the article titled "I will tell the real truth (11), I strongly criticized the Press Bill which is designed to enable the government to continue to control the media. (This Bill has now been approved by the Lower House of Parliament). I mentioned in the article that we don’t want to copy the democracy as practiced in Singapore, Malaysia or Cambodia.
"Myanmar should not copy Cambodia, where the oppositions are suppressed through tactics which undermine the political awareness of the youth, who are not allowed to politically mature, and are lost in self-indulgence due to the prolonged civil war. Moreover, the military is side-stepped, and the media is under control, at the mercy of democratic dictator prime minister Hun Sen. Myanmar will not fit in that model either. When the autocratic rulers wanted to hold on to power, they use unjust laws, propaganda machinery, and deploy secret tactics to backtrack path to democracy and public interest," I wrote in the article.
The two most popular world news stories these days are the July issue of the TIME magazine's front page cover story under the headline 'The Face of Buddhist Terror' by Hannah Beech and the Egyptian army's overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi.
Before those events, I remember what I have told a correspondent from a well-known French magazine. I told him that I first thought our democratic change was the greatest ideal on global scale. But with the ultra-nationalism that has emerged, I was worried that changes of our country might be like Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia or Ceausescu's Romania, I said.
Hannah Beech is a professional journalist as well as an expert in Myanmar affairs. In her story, she argued about her so-called radical Buddhism, opening way to riots and violence in Myanmar. She might have featured her story without pointing out the root cause of the incidents and without thinking that the content of the story would be controversial when inciting religion as the cause. She should have known that religious violence in Myanmar is not caused by Buddhist monks. It is different when comparing her story with that of well-known Reuters correspondent Andrew Marshall. Foreign journalists usually write favourably towards Muslims. But Andrew Marshall highlighted the entire history of '969' movement to U Kyaw Lwin.
What he forgot to write was Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's meeting with government leaders in 2002; the arrest of Buddhist monk U Wirathu in 2002 when religious riots took place in Kyaukse, central Myanmar; and Debeyin plot against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during her tour of Mandalay and Sagaing regions in 2003.
For me, I want to say how Hannah Beech's story impacted on Myanmar's political affairs and how we have to remedy it rather than condemning her story.
Before I write about TIME's journalist Hannah Beech further, I would like to talk more about the Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law that Parliament enacted last Friday.
In passing the law, the legislators had turned down several suggestions from the private media-led Press Council and despite a series of strong criticism from several journalist associations.
It is astonishing to see little responses in this media law - which is far from promoting freedom of the press and keep the private media in tight control by the state - even from opposition political parties like the National League for Democracy.
The NLD has been a pillar that the people have come to rely upon at least in terms of speaking about rights and freedom. But the press law was approved without any objection by Parliament.
The law makers also made an additional amendment banning a cross ownership in publishing and broadcasting.
Such prohibition cannot be found in any other democratic country, especially now that digital technology has advanced so much.
In Myanmar, it means that only crony companies are allowed to do the broadcasting. It means that other private media companies are pitched into narrow and unfair competition with state-owned newspapers that are said to be running without any profit, and subsidized by public funds.
The entire episode reminds me of the time of the Romans - in particular to Julius Caesar, the legendary Roman general and senator who used to talk candidly with his good friend Brutus when often he met up with the parliamentarians whom he's friendly with. He used to say 'this law' got even worse when it reached the Senate as changes were made to the original.
Actually this Myanmar press law is not made to serve the rights of journalists. So, I would like to move on and discuss where Myanmar's democracy is heading.
If the "main" Opposition party and the "old guards of democracy" make no protest and keep their mouths shut on press freedom issue, the righteous ones with principles and national interest at heart may face unfortunate situation of "being forced out of the village" like Cambodian Opposition Leader Sam Rainsy.
So there is a damning big question on who the people could now rely on? I have to say the people will have to rely on themselves. The people will have to pressure the government, the Opposition and the international community wisely and lawfully - using their own wits and guts. It's not possible now to pressure the government alone, as before.
Myanmar is located strategically between two of the world's most populous countries - China and India.
The British made it a province of India during its colonial era. Most of the Myanmar people are this well aware "the security agenda" geographically and historically.
Mostly warlords and warriors who like waging wars have become historically famous. In the later colonial period, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism began to spread in Myanmar. From time immemorial, Buddhism took to deep root. And over 85 per cent of Myanmar people were imprinted with the nationalistic and patriotic ideology that means to safeguard nationality, religion and Sasana for nearly a century since the start of the colonial era.
At such a time, the reported rapid growth of Muslim population, Muslim extremists around the world, Muslim Bengali as well as Chinese lineage have emerged as a threat to secularism and independence that has come to alarm the international community.
In this regard, extremist religion instigators based on political ideology pushed the country into a state of violence.
With the lack in the rule of law and decisive actions in this country it had brought international condemnation on Myanmar.
Last month, TIME magazine put Myanmar on the cover page, pointing out that the country came into spotlight as Buddhists became extremist. But the Time coverage brought anger to the Myanmar people especially the middle-class. They were particular upset at the accusation of extremism indiscriminately on Buddhism and all Buddhist monks. This spillover on extreme nationalism and religion, the TIME coverage and its implications can impact Myanmar's on going democratic reforms.
As most of the people including the government bitterly opposed the cover story of TIME magazine, the international community nevertheless has come to know the instigators and who is the source of national divide.
Buddhism isn’t the starting point in the sectarian problem. Most of the monks have nothing to do with it. Although the sectarian charge can be directly and openly said to be an issue of semantic to Myanmar citizens abroad and those with international exposure. A confrontation or blame method is not easily resolved. This is because Myanmar is sandwiched with nationalism - comprising nationality, religion and Sasana for over a century.
Nationalism will prevail given our historical and geographical conditions. However, we need to be aware that extreme nationalism can get mixed up in hyper-nationalism and that it can cause the Union break up.
Journalists must reflect the voices of the majority of the people, while protecting the interests of oppressed minorities.
Often, whenever the journalists spotlight the problem of the minorities, it's about aggressive majority founding to be confronting them. I would like to openly criticize the approach of some international media covering issues with sensational exaggeration. Instead, it should be more coverage on discrimination of the Muslim minority, violence against Muslim minority, and basic rights of Muslims which should be highlighted in the media.
With more productive approach, internal conflicts sure ease, and Myanmar’s democratic reforms will have a chance to move ahead.
But instead, if Buddhism and Buddhist monks are given the blame on and subject to exaggeration, the misleading hype will not stop and the obstacles against the democratic reform will increase.
A proper turn can weaken nationalists and dictatorship. What is the best course of thinking and actions to move forward remains of paramount important!
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