This paper will look at the ways in which five well-known news sources talk about the ongoing conflict in Myanmar. The conflict is between the Buddhist majority and a Muslim minority known as the Rohingya. The Rohingya originally came from Bangladesh but have been living in Myanmar for generations. The Buddhist population fears that the Muslims will overwhelm the Buddhist population and take over. Although a census has not been carried out since 1983, it is generally accepted that only 4% of the Myanmar population is Muslim. The Rohingya are an even smaller subset of the Muslim population. Even though it is a widely-held belief among Buddhists, it does not warrant brutal treatment of the Muslim minority. The five different news sources that will be examined are Al Jazeera, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and CNN. All of the reporting that will be analyzed has occurred within the last three months.
The first aspect that will be analyzed is the way in which the Rohingya are portrayed. From the 3 articles from Al Jazeera that were analyzed, it was clear that the Rohingya were portrayed as a helpless minority with no power to protect themselves from the brutal acts of violence carried out by extremist Buddhist groups and even government officials. One article from Al Jazeera begins by telling a story of a family whose mother could not breastfeed her children because she had tuberculosis. She was unable to get medical assistance from foreign aid groups because they have been told to leave by the Myanmar government. Al Jazeera focuses on the plight of the Rohingya people and how extremist Buddhist groups are targeting them not only through physical violence but also by spreading a hateful message to Buddhists throughout the region. One article “When will the world act on Myanmar’s abuses?” written for Al Jazeera by a freelance journalist calls the situation a “humanitarian crisis.” He cites another article saying, “…over 140,000 Rohingya are confined…the lack of aid has created a humanitarian situation that has ‘gone from bad to worse…The IDPs (internally displaced persons) are basically deprived of everything, they have no healthcare at all, and suffer shortages of food and water.” Al Jazeera brings forth very strong accusations on the situation in Myanmar yet the Myanmar government simply denies these occurrences and claims the NGO’s that provide aid are biased towards the Rohingya. There is a clear bias in the Al Jazeera article written by the freelance writer Emanuel Stoakes against the Myanmar government but it supported by the overwhelming evidence from Al Jazeera and other news sources that there are serious humanitarian issues being disregarded.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN all take a similar approach as Al Jazeera does when reporting on the conflict. All three sources make it clear that brutal killings are being carried out against the Rohingya. Like Al Jazeera, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and CNN report that foreign aid organizations have been forced out of the Rakhine state of Myanmar based on supposed bias that the aid groups showed towards the Rohingya. Another major issue that is raised by these news sources is the upcoming census. They argue that the Rohingya will face even more hate and intolerance as people see how many Rohingya there are. The Buddhist majority sees the Muslims as dangerous to the Buddhist religion and believe that the Muslims may take over, even though they are a very small minority. The sources claim that extremist groups will use this new information from the census to further spread their propaganda against the Rohingya.
The Huffington post article begins by providing statistics on the amount of people who have lost their lives due to the Buddhist-Muslim conflict in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand and discusses the Buddhist-Muslim in general. The article cites Maung Zarni, and exiled Burmese. He argues that Buddhism does not allow for fundamentalism. He continues by stating that Buddhism doesn’t allow for any, “organization that polices or regulates the faithful’s behavior or inner thoughts. “ This was in regards to Thailand’s anti-blasphemy law. Although it seems reasonable to assert that Buddhism is generally peaceful, it completely disregards the many reports of violence going unchecked, uncriticized, and even supported in Myanmar. The Rohingya are in desperate need of help but the Buddhist majority in Myanmar is unfortunately silent while the situation continues to deteriorate. The article then goes on to cite the founder of the Knowing Buddha Foundation, Acharawadee Wongsakon. She argues that Buddhism must have legal protection and that the new movements provide a “true knowledge of Buddhism.” Although it is important to hear from both sides of a conflict, Wongsakon’s comments seem to legitimize the actions of those killing Rohingya and other religious minorities. This “true knowledge” and legal protection will only add fuel to the fire in Myanmar. The extreme Buddhist groups could use this “true knowledge” concept to their advantage to further spread their hate. Unlike the other articles, the Huffington Post does a poor job at conveying the crisis that the Rohingya are in. It fails to describe the horrible conditions the Rohingya have been forced to live in nor does it explain how the Myanmar government has done little to help them.
Another aspect that will be analyzed is the way in which the Myanmar government is portrayed. In a CNN article, “ Concern as Buddhist mobs target foreign aid groups in Myanmar,” it was reported that the foreign aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) had been banned from the Rakhine state in which the Rohingya live because the government claimed MSF had been banned for “consistently showing bias towards the state’s Muslim minority…”. MSF (Doctors Without Borders) said it was “deeply shocked by the unilateral decision” and that it was “treating anyone ho was unable to access the medical care they required.” Clearly the Myanmar government does not have any legitimate reason to keep denying the Rohingya basic rights or to ban health care organizations. In fact, the government is implicitly supporting the extremist groups who spread hate about the Rohingya by showing bias against the Rohingya. One of the two CNN articles, a blog written by Maha Hosain Aziz, makes the important point that local governments must first acknowledge that a serious problem exists if the conflict is to be tackled but that the government in Myanmar is simply refusing to acknowledge the problem. The Wall Street Journal article, discussing a specific incident that occurred in January, says,
Myanmar’s government, intent on international acceptance and investment, has steadfastly denied the killings occurred in the village…The country’s human rights commission called the news “unverifiable and unconfirmed.” The United Nations findings, however, have become emblematic of the increasing violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya, an estimated 1.3 million people who are denied citizenship under national law.
Myanmar’s government shows no concern for the lives of the Rohingya and instead seeks foreign investment by denying the killings ever happened. It shows the government to be selfish and greedy. This behavior is also evident in the partiality that the government shows towards Rakhine Buddhists. According to the Al Jazeera article entitled “ Myanmar’s Rohingya face a humanitarian crisis,” Buddhist IDPs living in camps in the Rakhine state are given government housing with electricity and are allowed full freedom to move and work. The government has also provided a clinic. They have done little to dispel the idea that foreign aid organizations like MSF show bias towards the Rohingya. Even if the MSF help more Rohingya than Buddhists, it is because the Rohingya desperately need help while the Buddhists are taken care of by the Myanmar government. When looking at the Huffington Post article, there is not mention of the Myanmar government. It only talks about the differences in opinions over what Buddhism allows. It makes no mention of how the government is denying Rohingya vital medical care or making any effort at all the alleviate the situation. It makes no mention of the upcoming census that could give the government and extreme Buddhist groups more reason to mistreat the Rohingya. In fact, in citing a Buddhist monk who lecturers at Chiang Mai Buddhist College in Thailand, it could be seen as legitimizing the actions of the extreme Buddhists because Muslims had attacked Buddhist statues in the 13th century. Although many Buddhists died at the hands of the Muslim military general Bakhtiyar Khilji, it does not excuse the terrible acts of Buddhists against Muslims in Myanmar.
Regardless of which news source is analyzed, it is clear that there exists a real humanitarian issue in Myanmar. It cannot be ignored that 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims are being mistreated simply based on their ethnicity. The majority of the news sources that are analyzed in this paper do a great job of presenting the situation as it really is and emphasizing the urgency of the situation. What is also important is the depiction of the Myanmar government and their complete lack of responsibility for what is happening in their country. With the exception of the Huffington Post article, these articles put the Myanmar government in a hypocritical and selfish light. This makes the situation all the more urgent because it most likely means this issue will become regional and even global in scale.
Shibani Mahtani, “Myanmar Keeps Rohingya Muslims From Upstaging Summit,” The Wall Street Journal, 5/11/14 http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303851804579555420352442450
Paul Armstrong, “Concern as Buddhist Mobs Target Foreign Aid Groups in Myanmar,” CNN, 3/28/14 http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/28/world/asia/myanmar-rakhine-ngos-violence/
Vishal Arora, “Asian Budhism’s GrowingFundamentalist Streak Signals Growth of Religious Nationalism in Several Countries”, Huffington Post, 5/1/2014 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/01/asian-buddhism-fundamentalism_n_5248880.html
Maha Hosain Aziz, “Is Asia facing a new wave of religious extremism?”, CNN, 3/28/2014 http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/28/is-asia-facing-a-new-wave-of-religious-extremism/
Jane Perlez, “Rise in Bigotry Fuels Massacre Inside Myanmar”, The New York Times, 3/1/2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/world/asia/rise-in-bigotry-fuels-massacre-inside-myanmar.html?_r=1
Emanuel Stoakes, “When will the world act on Myanmar’s abuses?”, Al Jazeera, 4/28/2014 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/04/when-will-world-act-myanmar-abu-201442714754757866.html
Carlos Sardina Galache, “Myanmar’s Rohingya face a humanitarian crisis”, Al Jazeera, 4/19/2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/04/myanmar-rohingya-face-humanitarian-crisis-2014419153817624529.html
“UN Envoy: Myanmar must give status to Muslims”, Al Jazeera, 5/2/2014