Reporters Without Borders released Thursday a report on the crisis in the western state of Arakan, a copy of which it gave yesterday to National League for Democracy parliamentary representative Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently on a four-day visit to Paris, the last leg of a European tour that ends tomorrow.
“The ongoing conflict in Arakan has shone a harsh light on the sensitivity of the media environment and the very fragile nature of the newly recovered but partial media freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Aung San Suu Kyi clearly appreciates the gravity of the crisis but we felt we had to draw her attention to the urgency of the need to respond to the many challenges for the Burmese media after 50 years of suppression and censorship.
“Until now, the government has been relaxing its abusive control of the media but, as it does not know how to assist the media in the new, rapidly emerging political and economic environment, it has reacted in an instinctive manner to what it regards as the excessive liberties the media are taking and has initiated at least three prosecutions since the start of the year. The editor of Snapshot could be facing a seven-year jail sentence. This is not an acceptable response from a government that claims to be on the road to democracy.
“We hope that both the Burmese government and parliament will understand that modernization and liberalization of the media and adoption of adequate media legislation are not going to be the result of the country’s democratization but are inescapable preconditions for its democratization, ones that must be tackled right away.”
Reporters Without Borders talked twice yesterday with Aung San Suu Kyi, firstly during an informal lunch at the Paris city hall, then in the afternoon during a meeting at which the French foreign ministry and several civil society organizations took part.
Reporters Without Borders was able to draw her attention to the new threats to freedom of information in Burma and to the needs of the media, which have had big impact on the crisis in Arakan from the outset.
The report analyses the key role of Internet and media coverage in the evolution of the violence in Arakan, the difficulties of access to information, the attacks on the foreign and exile media, the role played by the government and the dangers resulting from news manipulation and its impact on the tension.
Reporters Without Borders recommends actions that the Burmese government and media should undertake to improve journalists’ ability to work effectively and increase freedom of information.
Burma is ranked 169th out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.