YANGON: A leading English-language newspaper in Myanmar has suspended its reporting on restive Rakhine state, according to an internal memo, as pressure mounts on media to curtail critical coverage of army operations in the area.
The northern part of the state, close to the Bangladesh border and home to the repressed Muslim Rohingya minority, has been under military lockdown for almost a month after deadly raids on three police border posts.
The violence has posed the biggest challenge so far to Aung San Suu Kyi’s young government and raised questions over the balance of power between the army and the civilian administration.
The Myanmar Times, the country’s oldest independent English-language daily, stopped covering the crisis after one of its senior staff, Fiona McGregor, was fired over an article alleging troops gang-raped Rohingya women.
In an internal memo seen by Agence France-Presse, management ordered editors “not to analyse, comment, report or have opinion pieces on the following subjects until further notice: Rakhine State; Rohingya; and military actions in Rakhine state”.
That prompted staff to post a notice in Tuesday’s print edition saying the paper’s “editorial policies are in the process of being clarified by management.”
“Until then you may notice some gaps in our coverage.”
The paper’s management could not immediately be reached for comment.
Foreign journalists have been banned from the area, but allegations have emerged of troops killing Rohingya civilians, raping women and torching villages.
The government has vehemently denied the accusations and the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday launched a blistering attack on what it said were “fabricated” stories.
The media was strictly controlled by the junta that ruled the country for half a century, and while freedoms have increased under Suu Kyi monitors say many outlets still exercise self-censorship.
One Myanmar Times editor has already resigned in protest, and sources inside the newspaper said several other staff were considering leaving.
“The paper withstood the pre-publication censorship of the junta era,” said one of them, requesting anonymity.
“There are major concerns about backsliding in the commendable gains made on press freedom in recent years.”
McGregor’s dismissal came after presidential spokesman Zaw Htay complained in a Facebook post about her article.
He has denied having a hand in her firing, telling Agence France-Presse the government has “no reasons to hide.”
The stateless Muslim Rohingya are maligned by many Myanmar Buddhists who say they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh and undeserving of citizenship.
Scores have been killed since bouts of religious violence in Rakhine since 2012, which drove tens of thousands into squalid displacement camps. AFP