Myanmar Times joins the enemies of press freedom

Fiona MacGregor had worked as a reporter for the Myanmar Times since 2013 before she was summarily fired this week. On October 27, the English-language daily published her report on allegations of rape commited by security forces in Rakhine State.

The next day, though her findings were substantiated by a Reuters report from the village in question, MacGregor was personally called-out by President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay, who called her sources “uncredible”, dismissed the possibility of Myanmar troops committing rape and suggested that claims of human rights abuses are a tactic used by a “network” bent on damaging the reputation of the Myanmar government.

MacGregor’s sacking a few days later was reportedly preceded by a complaint by the Ministry of Information to the Myanmar Times over her reporting. For more information on the timeline of these events, we suggest this article from Frontier.

A representative of the Myanmar Times said no one was available to comment on this story.

For MacGregor’s personal account of the ordeal, see her statement below:

As some of you may know I was fired from the Myanmar Times this week after the presidential spokesman Zaw Htay named me personally on his face book page last Friday and accused me of bias in a report I wrote on alleged military rapes of Muslim women in northern Rakhine. 

As would be expected given sensitivities in Myanmar, the posts generated a considerable amount of hate speech against myself and the paper. 

The reason given for my sacking was that the rape allegations story and “several” other unidentified articles I had written breached company policy by damaging national reconciliation and the paper’s reputation.

Management refused to tell me whether anyone in the government had contacted the owner directly about my writing ahead of my sacking, but I was led to believe by some senior staff that that had happened.

Obviously there are personal consequences for myself in all this, but my greater concern is what this means for media freedom in Myanmar.

I have written extensively on gender based violence in conflict and the wider impact of conflict on civilians in different parts of this country. Allegations of rapes and other human rights abuses by members of the Myanmar military are a matter of national and international concern and were highlighted by the outgoing UN secretary general in his last annual report.

It is extremely important that a precedent is not set that allows the presidential spokesperson to use social media or any other means to personally attack journalists for reporting on these matters or for the government to be allowed to consider this an effective way to silence the media.

It is difficult enough for local journalists in this country to report on Rakhine without the threat of this kind of intimidation coming from the president’s office.

I am writing to you as friends and people I respect to ask that in your various roles you support press freedom in Myanmar in whatever way you can at this critical time. It is important that people at the highest level in the country recognise that journalists play a vital role in democracy and it is completely unacceptable for senior government figures to encourage the repression of media freedom.

I am very proud of my former colleagues at the Myanmar Times and other journalists in this country who continue to do the best job they can under very challenging circumstances.

I would also like to thank the very many people who have sent me messages of support in recent days. It has been hugely encouraging during this difficult time to know I have the backing of so many people.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity until now to write for a Myanmar newspaper on many issues, but in particular for having been able to give a platform for women affected by conflict. Their voices are too rarely heard. 

I am very sad to have had that opportunity taken away, but I am determined that I will continue to do everything in my power to keep writing and give a voice in the media to those who others would wish to silence.

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