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Dictators Firm In Commitment To End Media Freedom

Every crisis is an opportunity for the world’s authoritarian rulers. Removing critical voices enhances their positions, they believe. Jailing reporters and editors is easy, like chasing away media support organizations. The real bonus for dictators is closing publishers and broadcasters.

no news is no newsCiting breach of agreement, the BBC World Service has withdrawn cooperation with Myanmar (Burma) television broadcaster MNTV. Regularly scheduled Burmese language regional and international news bulletins produced by the BBC Burmese service were “temporarily suspended” at the end of August, said an unnamed MNTV editor, quoted by English-language weekly Frontier Myanmar (September 4). “The decision came from the top management.”

The decision by MNTV, a public-private joint venture, to remove the BBC Burmese news programs may have been self-censorship rather than a direct command from Myanmar authorities. MNTV and most other news local media toe the line of the Myanmar military and government, particularly regarding the Muslim Rohingya minority population. State-run daily newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar published (August 28) “cautioned” media outlets from referring to the “Rohingya” rather than “Bengali,” the term preferred by government suggesting a diminished legal status.

“Any interference in our programs by partner stations represents a serious breach of trust with our audiences, which the BBC cannot allow,” said BBC World Service Group director Francesca Unsworth in a statement on the BBC website (September 1). “We have experienced interference in our news bulletins since March and reminded MNTV that this breached their broadcasting agreement. Since this interference continued, the BBC had no alternative but to end the partnership with immediate effect. We regret any disruption to our loyal audiences in Myanmar and we remind them that they can continue to access BBC Burmese on, on the BBC Burmese Facebook page, on the BBC Burmese YouTube channel and we are available on shortwave.”

UNHCR reported (September 5) more than 120,000 Rohingya refugees have entered Bangladesh in the last ten days, fleeing violence between Myanmar’s military and Rohingya militants. The RSF 2017 World Press Freedom Index ranked Myanmar 131st, ahead of Cambodia (132nd), also in mainland South East Asia.

This week (September 4) English-language Cambodia Daily was forced to close when presented with a disputed tax bill for US$6.3 million. Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen told the publisher to “pay up or pack up and go.” The publishers were presented with the tax bill August 4th. The Cambodia Daily was founded by former Newsweek foreign correspondent Bernard Krisher in 1993.

A blistering front page editorial headlined “Descent into outright dictatorship” marked the newspaper’s final issue. “After 24 years and 15 days, the Cambodian government has destroyed The Cambodia Daily, a special and singular part Cambodia’s free press,” wrote deputy publisher Deborah Krisher- Steele. The final issue also covered the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha. Cambodian immigration authorities have barred Ms Krisher-Steele and publisher Douglas Steele from leaving the country as tax authorities seek to seize the newspaper’s assets. Ms Krisher-Steele and her father Bernard Krisher are believed to be in Japan.

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