Broadcast news stations remain closed in Myanmar following a government takeover by the country’s military on Monday, though some private stations that were at first shut down have been allowed to reopen, sources in Myanmar say.
Myawaddy TV, a military-owned station, remained open Monday to broadcast the army’s version of the news as troops surrounded government buildings and detained civilian leaders including state councilor Aung San Suu Kyi, while some private entertainment channels that were briefly closed reopened by nighttime.
The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Mizzima TV, two registered media outlets, are still off the air, however, with Toe Zaw Latt—director of DVB News—telling RFA on Tuesday that they have not yet been told when they may reopen.
“There has been no official communication between the authorities and us, and all we could learn was that our channel’s port to the government’s broadcasting system was dropped,” he said. “We don’t know anything more than that.”
“The Minister of Information, Pe Myint, is missing himself. It’s hard at the moment to find out what’s going on,” he said.
Beginning in 2017, five television companies in Myanmar were allowed to broadcast 24 hours a day, including DVB News, the news-focused Mizzima TV station, and Channel K, Fortune TV, and Y TV, which focused on entertainment.
Contracts signed with the Ministry of Information by television stations to pay for broadcasts are still pending, however, leaving their status uncertain going forward, and it is unclear whether news-oriented channels will be allowed now to resume 24-hour broadcasting.
Reporters working for the shuttered stations will continue to do their work, said Sein Win, Mizzima Media’s interim editor-in-chief.
“As professional journalists, we have to continue to do what we have been doing, despite the [present] situation,” he said.
As Monday’s coup unfolded, other telecommunication lines including phone and data services were also cut, leaving the public unable to access accurate information about events as they took place, with many relying on word-of-mouth reports for their news.
“Because communications were shut down, we had to rely on each other to learn what was going on,” said Hla Myint, a resident of the Insein township in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon. “When internet reception was spotty, we mostly listened to the BBC and Radio Free Asia,” he said.
Internet and phone connections were partly restored by Monday afternoon, but outages are still frequent and internet connections are slow, and state-owned newspapers such as the Daily Mirror have only published announcements by the military on their front pages, sources said.
Journalists told to 'be careful'
Myint Kyaw, joint secretary of the Myanmar Press Council—an independent body that adjudicates press disputes and advocates for media professionals—said there has been no communication so far between the Council and Myanmar’s new military government, and warned journalists to be careful when covering events in the field.
“In our opinion, freedom of the press should not be restricted or suppressed, but we want to urge all reporters and journalists to be cautious, since some people may be angered by the stories they publish,” he said.
“Media organizations should also warn their staff on how to deal with the new media landscape,” he added, amid reports that a reporter was beaten on Monday by coup supporters and taken to Rangoon Hospital, and that reporters and office staff from some well-known media outlets are now in hiding out of fear of possible arrest.
In a statement Tuesday, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information urged news media and citizens to cooperate with military government authorities, saying that Monday’s coup was launched to “legally resolve the problems of huge discrepancies” in voter lists used in the Nov. 8, 2020 election that returned Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government to power for a second-five year term set to begin in late March.
Doubts over the integrity of the election had “badly injured the unity of ethnic groups in the country, harmed stability in the country, and will cause problems in the path toward democracy,” the ministry said, while warning against what it called the circulation of rumors on social media.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won 396 parliamentary seats in November, while the army-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) took only 33 seats. The USDP serves as a proxy for the military, which is guaranteed 25 percent of seats under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
The military and the USDP have contended for weeks that there was widespread voter fraud and have increased pressure on Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) to investigate. Neither the military nor the USDP have submitted any evidence of actual voter fraud, but have raised questions about outdated voter lists and other problems.
In a Feb. 1 statement, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists voiced alarm at the military takeover of Myanmar’s elected government and called on the army to fully restore all blocked TV stations, phone lines, and internet services in Myanmar.
“The military must allow journalists to continue to do their jobs without fear of reprisal, and fully restore internet and communications services throughout the country at this crucial time,” said CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin.
“Under no circumstances should the military revert to the crude and harsh censorship policies of its previous junta regimes,” Crispin said.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Richard Finney.