The links between ethnic hatred and freedom of information is well established.

The lack of journalistic ethics and publication of racist rhetoric about the Rohingyas by certain newspapers, which contributed to the escalation of violence, is also a direct reflection of the country’s poor record on media freedom. By seeking to understand this connection, the Burmese government could obtain a useful tool to help end the crisis, and moreover, prevent further ethnic clashes from erupting in the future.

Journalists who covered the sectarian crisis in Arakan state immediately faced repercussions. Safety became an issue amid the rising tide of nationalism and journals were routinely threatened online for allegedly siding with the Rohingya. Often-virulent attacks made the job of reporters and correspondents more difficult. The Democratic Voice of Burma had numerous abusive messages posted on their Facebook and emailed to their journalists, including some that were threatening, after the organisation published several articles on its website concerning the unrest in Arakan state.

However, expanding press freedom alone does not guarantee the practice of ethical and objective journalism and will therefore not be sufficient to prevent racist and discriminatory speech from appearing in the media. That is why the establishment of a self-regulatory system, aimed at promoting journalistic ethics, should figure among the government’s priorities.

Burmese journalists are still aware that potential legal suits, thanks in large part to the country’s repressive laws, hang over their heads like the sword of Damocles, which is likely to pressure editors into self censoring.

The Reporters Without Border’s report "Crisis in Arakan state and new threats to freedom of information" outlines how the government clamped down on the media and its coverage of the riots in the immediate aftermath of the rioting. The author of this opinion article, Benjamin Ismail is head of the Asia-Pacific desk at Reporters Without Borders.

2012.08.30 DVB - Opinion : apressing truth