A Buddhist monk and other protesters demonstrate against Time magazine in Rangoon on June 30, 2013. (Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun)
RANGOON — President Thein Sein accused Time magazine of creating misconceptions about Buddhism, a religion practiced by the majority of Burma’s 60 million people, during his monthly radio address to the nation on Tuesday.
Burma’s reformist president said he was aware that the controversial July 1 issue of Time had caused much anguish among the public.
“The cover story of the magazine, depicting a few individuals who are acting contrary to most of Myanmar, is creating misconceptions about Buddhism, a religion practiced by the majority of Myanmar’s population,” the 68-year-old said, according to a transcript published on the President’s Office website.
Time magazine’s July 1 issue features a photo of nationalist monk U Wirathu with the headline “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”
The magazine’s cover story, “When Buddhists Go Bad,” explores the rise of aggressive, nationalist teachings among Buddhist monks in Burma and other parts of Asia, such as Sri Lanka, and the role that radical monks like U Wirathu have played in instigating unrest between groups of different faiths.
The magazine cover and story sparked a public outcry in majority-Buddhist Burma, leading to a government ban on the magazine. Hundreds gathered in downtown Rangoon on Sunday for a rally against the US publication.
In his speech, Thein Sein said he strongly believed that the right to freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly, in light of the delicate political dynamics and religious tensions currently at play in Burma.
“No matter how true a statement, it should not be said if it will not be beneficial and constructive,” he added, quoting a well-known Burmese saying.
“Therefore, I urge you to use the Time magazine article as an opportunity to focus on constructive approaches, consensus building and calming outbreaks of violence,” the former general said.
On a separate note, Thein Sein on Tuesday urged international media to take account of the relatively short 26 months that his government has had to work in assessing the success of Burma’s reform process.
“My intention is not to ignore internationally accepted democratic norms, but rather to invite constructive observations and advice,” he said.
Myint Kyaw, a Burmese journalism trainer and general-secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Network, said the president’s remarks misconstrued the media’s role in society.
“In journalism, we have to prioritize public interests,” he said. “If a situation is bad, we have to say it’s bad in order to make it better.
“He should give us a clear explanation on why they’ve banned the magazine. For example, whether there’s any positive impact on the unrest by banning the magazine.”
Myint Kyaw argued that the Time article did not create misconceptions about Buddhism as a whole, as the president claimed.
“The story doesn’t attack Buddhism but points out that there are some people who misuse the religion to create violence,” Myint Kyaw said.