Final Project: Media Coverage on the Violence in Burma

Posted on May 17, 2013 by

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I will be focusing on the media coverage of the violence taking place in Burma. There are a wide range of views and opinions on the matter; however, there seems to be certain patterns in the way that this issue is presented. I will not be discussing whether or not what the media covers is true or false. I will be looking at how this situation is covered through some of the circumstances including how, when, where, and why it is covered in a certain way. I will also be analyzing how those circumstances might have an effect on how it is interpreted by specific audiences.

It is important for the media to cover something like this because it is going on right now. As a whole, the media does not cover much of the history of this violence. This is because, from my understanding, the media was not welcomed in that area until very recently. So most of the history of this violence is unknown, or it is based on stories of native people who could potentially be biased. The media is mainly reporting on specific acts of violence that are current, and that is what I am focusing on.

First, as soon as I started researching this topic, I realized that the media puts the violence between two groups of people. According to every article I came across, there is tension and violence between Muslims and Buddhists. There is little to no wiggle room between the distinction of these groups, according to the media. It is either a Muslim or a Buddhist that is fighting each other. It is easy to see this grouping by looking at some of the titles of articles including, “Why are Buddhist Monks Attacking Muslims?”, “Buddhists-Muslims violence spreads in Myanmar”, and “Emergency declared in Myanmar Muslim-Buddhist clashes”. In some articles there is no reason as to why this violence is happening, so this gives the impression to the reader that this is purely a religious issue because of the way the media separates the groups with religious labels.

Simply by typing in the words “Violence in Myanmar” into the web, with no bias intentions, my first impression by looking at the titles of the articles was that the media as a whole is portraying Buddhists as the “bad guys” and Muslims as the “innocent/good guys”. This stuck me as very odd because people,  in the West especially, are used to seeing Islam portrayed in a bad light. At the same time we are trained to picture Buddhists as peaceful and loving monks in orange robes and meditating in a temple. We most certainly do not expect to read about articles entitled “Killer Buddhists”. Most of the articles are written in the United States, and Western Europe. The people receiving this information is going to be people from the “West” who have these expectations of the two religions. Some of the initial reactions of other viewers include the shock in comments such as the one on Atlas Shrug’s article, “How the heck can Islamists claim to be victimized by Buddhists?”. Another comment that describes a surprise reaction with Buddhist side includes, “Buddhists monks spreading violence? Didn’t see that one coming!”. This also gives the impression to the reader that there must be a very good reason for the Buddhists monks to be spreading violence, since they are thought of a peaceful and gentle religion in the West.

It is hard to understand what the motivation is behind these attacks, because of the reasons mentioned before. The impression given is that the Muslims are completely innocent, with all of the evil labeled to the Buddhists. The articles heavily focus in detail about the gruesome attacks carried out by these Buddhists. In the realm of Buddhists attacking Muslims, the only reason that I came across in my sources was that the Muslims are thought of as illegal citizens. Also, in one article entitled “Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma” by Kate Hodal, it tells of a man named “Burmese Bin-Laden”. That name alone strikes a deep chord in people, especially in America. For most, this is an automatic association with evil. Burmese Bin-Laden gives reasons as to why they (Buddhist monks) are attacking Muslims. In a slight moment the reader may start to see an actual reason as to why the Buddhists are supposedly doing these horrid things. It even seems as though Muslims could be seen as the “bad guys”. But then, the article goes on to say that this man is uneducated and chilling. With the author adding this, this leaves the reader skeptical to everything that this man has said about Muslims. In the end this article still portrays Buddhists as the bad guys because this man, who is portrayed as a leader in this article, is called uneducated and is blamed for spreading rumors. Even though this is not mentioned, one could think of this “uneducated leader” piece as a possible indication of innocence to the Buddhist side. This is by realizing that when Burmese Bin-Laden shares these supposed crazy and rational ideas, there are going to be people who suck these things up and believe them. They are going to think they are fighting people who do these horrible things people just like them, this giving them (false) justification to be violent.

Hear are words and phrases that I found from the several articles listed at the end, that give support to this idea that the media covers Buddhists as evil and the Muslims as innocent and the victims:
Wordle: Untitled
Wordle: Untitled

These pictures were created on http://www.wordle.net

The next pattern that I noted was the lack of information of Muslim-initiated violence, and the absence of portraying Muslims as the “bad guys”. In Johanna Piacenza’s article “Killer Buddhists” there is evidence of Muslim-initated violence, “Prompted by the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men in June, violent clashes between the two groups keep popping up in western Myanmar.” As seen in other articles as well, the information stops there and focuses in detail on how the Buddhists retaliate. Another example, in two articles covering the event of a burning of a mosque in Meikhtila, Myanmar, both have one sentence saying how the fight started with a Buddhist getting killed. The rest of the paragraph (in both cases) describe how there was a Buddhist mob that rampaged the streets shortly after.

Determined to be sure that there was nothing that viewed this situation differently, I typed in a search engine, “Muslims spread violence in Myanmar”, and the top result included an article on how Muslims are putting up fences to defend themselves. I started looking deeper, and I did find two articles that put Islam in a negative light; however, these were anti-islam sources including barenakedislam.com and atlasshrugs.com, a website endorsed by the widely controversial myjihad campaign by Pamela Geller. These articles have extreme bias voices, and therefore makes it hard to believe for someone who is looking for facts.

There are articles that have more of an informational tone, such as The Hindu’s, “Buddhists-Muslims violence spreads in Myanmar” where the information comes across as more factual, and believable. The author uses words to state facts by starting with something such as “Analysts say”. This gives less of the impression of good vs bad, and more of a neutral tone of “this is what is happening”.

The media puts this situation as an act of violence caused by religion, one religion against another. The main pattern and theme that the media presents to us is that Buddhists are these angry people who are targeting innocent Muslims, with not a lot of explanation as to why. Although there are a few select strong anti-Islam voices that see this situation differently, as well as a few neutral articles, it is safe to say that the coverage mainly goes one way.

“#Myjihad in Burma: Myanmar Muslims Kill 8 Buddhists in Indonesian Centre”. Atlas Shrugs, April 6, 2013. http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2013/04/myjihad-in-burma-.html

Campbell, Charlie. “Burma Accused of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims”,TIME, April 23, 2013. http://world.time.com/2013/04/23/burma-accused-of-ethnic-cleansing-for-rohingya-violence/

“Buddhists-Muslims violence spreads in Myanmar”. The Hindu, March 25, 2013.http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/buddhistsmuslims-violence-spreads-in-myanmar/article4546385.ece

“Emergency declared in Myanmar Muslim-Buddhist clashes”. USA Today, March 22, 2013.http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/03/22/myanmar-meikhtila-emergency-muslims-buddhists/2008715/

Hodal, Kate. “Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma”.The Guardian, April 18, 2013 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/18/buddhist-monk-spreads-hatred-burma

Htun, Yadana and Pitman, Todd. “Myanmar’s Muslims Face Uncertain Future”. Huffington Post, May 1, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/01/myanmar-muslims_n_3195577.html

“Myanmar”. Bare Naked Islam. April 11, 2013.http://www.barenakedislam.com/2013/04/11/myanmar-burmese-buddhist-monk-burned-with-acid-slashed-with-knives-had-genitals-cut-off-all-by-muslims/

Piacenza, Joanna. “Killer Buddhists”. Rd Magazine, October 25, 2012.http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/guest_bloggers/6549/killer_buddhists/

Strathern, Alan. “Why are Buddhist monks attacking Muslims?”, BBC News, May 1,2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22356306

Winn, Patrick. “Myanmar: Anti-Muslim riots inflame city near Mandalay”. GlobalPost, March 22, 2013. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/myanmar/130322/myanmar-anti-muslim-religious-riots-Meikhtila

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