Violence tests Myanmar’s media, and its censors

UNDATED, June 14: When Myanmar emerged last year from army rule, state censors started to loosen their powerful grip, allowing newspapers to report freely on what had been unthinkable, from the views of opposition politicians to allegations of government corruption.
But as sectarian violence rages between majority Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in western Rakhine state, the old ways are returning. Censorship is creeping back, raising questions about whether the pre-screening of copy will be dropped, as the government has said.
“We cannot write whatever we want,” said Maung Wuntha, a prominent author and journalist who was jailed for publishing work deemed subversive by the former regime.
“We can only write when the press scrutiny board approves … And despite that, we were warned,” he said, referring to government warnings about stories on the unrest.
The Rakhine state violence is perhaps as big a test for Myanmar’s media as it is for a government desperate to put on a presentable face for the outside world.
The unrest is an extremely sensitive issue in Myanmar. The Rohingyas are not recognised as one of Myanmar’s numerous ethnic groups and their very presence is contested by many.
State media has said a five-day rampage of rioting in Rakhine state killed at least 21 people.. What started it remains a mystery but it seems almost certain to have stemmed from last month’s rape and murder of a Buddhist Rakhine woman, allegedly by three Muslims who are now on trial.
The incident led to calls for retribution that were swiftly answered by Buddhist vigilantes, who lynched 10 Muslims with no ties to the alleged killers.


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