‘We can cover news freely’

Pyaung Pike
Journalists talk to local residents during their trip to a village in Maungtaw Township in northern Rakhine State. Photo: Myanmar News Agency

THE News and Periodicals Enterprise led 18 journalists from the BBC, VOA, EPA, TV Asahi, Nippon TV, Fuji TV, Central News Bureau, Frontier Myanmar, Irrawaddy, Myawady, MRTV, MITV, Myanmar News Agency, Myanmar Alin and Kyaemon for a media visit to Sittway, Buthidaung, Maungtaw and Yathedaung in Rakhine State from 28 March to 1 April.
They were interviewed on their views and comments about the visit.

U Ye Naing, General Manager, News and Periodicals Enterprise, Ministry of Information
I led the media visit with 18 foreign and local media representatives from 28 March to 1 April. Although the media visit was planned for the areas where news is emerging, arrangements were made during the visit to expand the area in order to obtain additional news.
The visiting foreign and local media were able to observe freely the actual situation on the ground after the attack of 9 October 2016 as well as report about the latest situation on restoring law and order in the region. Instead of a one-sided report from a single media source, multiple media sources will report about the situation in Maungtaw area after this visit. The true situation will be known both locally as well as internationally.

U Sithu Aung Myint, Chief Editor, Central News Bureau
Before this visit, some of the journalists discussed with Ministry of Information on when and where they want to visit and how to collect news. The visit was arranged according to this discussion and we were not shown around only to pre-selected places. Due to time constraints, some places were not visited while arrangements were made to visit new places we added on. We were able to cover news freely.
During our first visit, we saw burnt places that were deserted. We saw only a few people going about even in Maungtaw. Businesses were stopped. This time around, we saw quite a number of people who had returned to their villages. There are still some remaining to return but it is not as much as we thought. During our first visit we ask the Rakhine State Chief Minister and respective government (officials) whether people can return to their burnt down places. In this visit, we saw a number of people returning to their villages, rebuilding their home and properly resettling on lands that were cleared and leveled by a bulldozer. This is a good sign. We are allowed to collect news freely. We also met with top officials and learnt about the situation on ground. State Counsellor Office and the Union Government decided to follow through on Kofi Annan’s suggestion to reduce conflict through developing Rakhine State.
However, this process is facing difficulties in issuing NVC (National Verification Card).  Due to administrative and security reason, only people with proper identifications are given travel permits, allowed to conduct trade with Bangladesh and do shipping business by the government. Muslims in the region are reluctant to get this card and is not applying for it. But without this card, they could not do anything. Without resolving this issue the work of regional development tasks for the  Rakhine State and reducing conflict would be difficult.

Daw Ei Ei Tin
(Foreign Correspondent) Fuji TV
We can gather news freely and security was complete. We were able to cover news from both communities in the region. I was not there after the 9 October attacks so I don’t know the situation at that time.
Now, I saw aids and supports provided by the government, regional organisations and NGOs. In Maungtaw area, there are many Muslim villages and a few Rakhine villages. With the resources Rakhine State had, it can be developed. A lot of jobs can be created. We pass through a village with many boats lying idle. This is bad for the boat owners as well people in the neighbourhood. They are having diverging thoughts. When asked to get NVC they are reluctant to do as they’ll become a non-naturalized citizen. Some say there are intimidated from getting NVC. But without this, they could not work on the boats. This is an issue that the government need to take time and resolve. The international community is showing much interest in the problems in Rakhine.

U Han Htwe Aung, TV Asahi
I was in the December trip. This time, we have more freedom in getting news. We can stop the car anywhere we want and get news. The arrangement was very good. We can also interview freely. Empty burnt out places seen in the first trip were cleared with machineries (for resettlement). This is the difference between the two visits. Villagers are less tense. They are willing and talking to us more with much expectation. As a representative of a foreign media, I want to say that foreigners would also like to have a first-hand visit to the area. Once security is better, foreign personnel of foreign media should be allowed in. Then there’ll be less international accusations. I’ll be reporting the news as I’ve seen to my foreign news agency.

U Nyan Hlaing Lin
(Frontier Myanmar)
Everything was well arranged. We can cover news freely where ever we went. There were some difficulties on the first day, but everything was fine on the following days. There isn’t much (economic) development but there is no conflict between the two communities now. Trust building and finding solution to the problems between the two communities is not seen yet. However, stopping the conflict is a progress. But there is still a lot to be done.
We were able to collect news freely. But the sources of the news were worried of reactions from the authorities. There are intimidations from within their own society too. Sadly a Tinmay villager (interviewed) was killed. This is hindering and causing difficulties for media in getting news. Government need to consider for the security of the news sources. As there are intimidations within the Muslim community, Government need to build trust and handle the matter with much care.

U Aung Thu Ra (BBC)
It was not good to conduct an interview in Buthidaung with government officials staying around on the first day. From the start of the Maungtaw trip on second day and afterward, it became better. We were able to get news freely. We can go to the villages and police were staying away from the interview. In general, it was a good media visit. After the event of 9 October, the current situation can be considered as stable. Authorities are also saying the same. People are still feeling insecure. All are still living in fear. Sign of dissatisfaction can also be seen.
The whole world needs to know what occurs here. This will happen if independent foreign media personnel (foreigners) are allowed to visit as we did. It will be very effective. The problem is also handled wrongly. People living in the country should comply with the country’s law. But their problems should be helped by considering them as human being. They also need to comply with this country’s law. The government needs to handle this effectively. Problem should not be hidden. Solution must be found through various methods.

Daw Sint Sint Aung,
Nippon TV
I came to find out what was done after the event of 9 October. We first visited Tinmay village in Buthidaung. Next, we visited 10 villages in Maungtaw. We also visited two locations where the event of 9 October happened. We were able to collect news freely. Upon our request during the visit, arrangements were made to visit places that were not in the initial schedule. We saw a bulldozer clearing a 24 acre land in a Muslim village. We were told that this is to build and settle about 300 households. This is a good development.
This is my first visit to Buthidaung and Maungtaw area. It is an area with jungles and mountains so if there were event like 9 October, perpetrators can hide well. There are also a lot of fallow lands that can be developed for both communities. Even other ethnic nationals can also settle there. If job opportunities are created, this place can support more population. Which I think would be better.

P6 NewDaw May Kha, Reporter,
VOA Yangon Bureau
I can gather news freely in this trip. Government is developing and resettling the burnt out places. I was also able to meet freely with both communities. Both communities are living in fear. Level of trust is also low with lots of worries. Government need to take some time in order to reduce these worries.
But proper processes must be drawn up and implemented. Although the government is making the whole area safe and secure, personal and individual safety is still lacking. We ourselves as media personnel don’t feel secure while gathering news in Maungtaw.
Authorities are doing this (providing security) with insufficient manpower. Government need to beef up security. Government said the two communities lived together for a long time and the unnecessary incidents happen because of instigation. I don’t see one side in a very poor and desperate situation and the other side having advantage. Both are in a poor state of affair. Government need to take care of both.

U Htet Naing Zaw (Senior Reporter, Irrawaddy)
There were some difficulties during the interview in Tinmay village, Buthidaung township because the authorities were nearby. We were able to gather news freely in Maungtaw.
We can ask whatever we want and meet any group freely. This was arranged by Ministry of Information. The situation is becoming stable.
But there is lack of personal or individual security. Muslims as well as the Rakhine who were a minority in the place were seen living in fear.
Government needs to do the NVC matter affectively in Muslim villages. The villagers need to be informed and educated about it. They need to be persuaded that having this card would entitle them to health and education care as well as freedom of travel. Health care, water and job opportunities need to be made available. Rakhine nationals are a minority in the region and are living in fear so authorities need to provide security as well as improve their livelihood too.

Daw Kyu Kyu Thin
(Reporter, MITV)
Even though we were unable to know everything about the situation in the area, we were able to learn about the status of the returnees to the burnt out areas, status of issuing NVC and village development matters conducted by the government. We are able to cover the news freely about 90 per cent of the time.  10 per cent is personal security. We don’t have the courage to enter the villages bravely.
After the events of 9 October, people were living in fear. They were worried about security. Even though the region is developing again, it would be difficult to reach the condition before 2012. It would be better if we can have more time (days) in this trip.

U Nyein Chan Naing
(Photojournalist, European Press Agency)
We are freer than last time. We visited places we went the first time as well as to new places. There weren’t changes in some places. But there were in some. In one village, machineries are preparing land to resettle people who were displaced by the violent attacks.
International media have much interest in this affair. Many were writing about this and it becomes big news. Some were true but some were rumors. Some reported news ending with a sentence that it could not be verified. Bigger and stronger media than us need to be invited and arranged to make a media visit like this. If the visit is as we did, there wouldn’t be a problem and they would be safe too. Then they can see with their own eyes and judge accordingly.

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