Radio Free Asia dropped from Myanmar TV over use of ‘Rohingya’

RFA Burmese logo.

Programming by Radio Free Asia (RFA) will no longer appear on Myanmar TV after the US-government-funded news outlet refused to stop using the term “Rohingya.”

On May 7, the state-run broadcasting agency Myanma Radio and Television informed private broadcasters that the use of the “controversial word ‘Rohingya’” violated their contractual code with the agency. Among these broadcasters was DVB Media Group, which was RFA’s local partner from Oct. 2017 until this past Monday.

The Myanmar government refers to the Rohingya as “Bengalis” to implying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Rohingya consider themselves native to Myanmar. Many of the 700,000 who were displaced by the Myanmar military since last August say they would return to Myanmar if guaranteed safety and citizenship.

RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan told AP that the organization refused to use another term for the persecuted minority and was subsequently dropped by DVB. Both RFA (in its current form) and DVB were set up in the 1990s to deliver uncensored news to their target audiences in Asia. DVB has yet to comment publicly on its current relationship with RFA.

RFA’s loss of access to its local partner in Myanmar follows its banning from Cambodian radio last August.

RFA president Libby Liu issued a statement declaring that the outlet “will not compromise its code of journalistic ethics, which prohibits the use of slurs against ethnic minority groups. RFA will continue to refer to the Rohingya as the ‘Rohingya’ in our reports. Use of other terms, even those that fall short of being derogatory, would be inaccurate and disingenuous to both our product and our audience.”

“By forbidding the use of the word ‘Rohingya,’ Myanmar’s government is taking an Orwellian step in seeking to erase the identity of a people whose existence it would like to deny. RFA will continue to provide audiences in Myanmar with access to trustworthy, reliable journalism, particularly when reporting on issues that local and state-controlled media ignores and suppresses.”

Mahajan told AP that RFA programming will remain online and on the radio, and its staff will continue to work in the country.

In addition to Myanmar, RFA carries broadcasts to China, Cambodia, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. Though it is funded by the US government, it is run as an independent, private, non-profit new outlet that acts “as a substitute for indigenous free media,” concentrating its coverage “on events occurring in and/or affecting the countries to which it broadcasts.”

After Myanmar’s Saffron Revolution in 2007, the ruling military junta organized rallies where thousands of attendees held signs condemning RFA, Voice of America, and BBC for “airing a skyful of lies.”

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