Sunday, 18 August 2013

Media should focus on the real issues in Rakhine State

By The Myanmar Times   |   Sunday, 18 August 2013

Tomas Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, makes headlines whenever he visits Myanmar.
This is not surprising. He is outspoken – too outspoken for many, as he often draws attention to uncomfortable truths. But many who have met Mr Quintana, including staff at The Myanmar Times when he visited our office in February, have found him to be sincere in his desire to report on and improve the human rights situation in Myanmar. He has campaigned on many important issues, including political prisoners and the culture of impunity in the military.

Anyone who disagrees with his observations should have the right to express their views, through a peaceful protest,
Facebook post or opinion article. Reasoned and rational debate is essential if the vast divides in Rakhine State, and elsewhere in Myanmar, are to be bridged.
But the controversy over his latest visit represents an unhelpful distraction. Certain publications and online media groups have drawn attention to photos of Mr Quintana meeting Buddhist and Muslim community leaders in Rakhine State and accused him of failing to show respect for monks by sitting cross-legged and not removing his socks.
Many have tried to use this to support their view that he is biased against the Rakhine community. If those present at the monastery in Sittwe were offended by Mr Quintana’s actions, they should have quietly expressed that to him directly rather than let others seek to undermine his mission.

It is sad that some publications have jumped on this issue either to push their own agendas and beliefs or cater to the populist – and often racist – sentiments that they have cultivated in recent years. Unfortunately, this reporting creates further divisions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities, not only in Rakhine State but across the country.
A recent article by Eleven Media Group, “Quintana shows disrespect to Buddhist monk, locals say”, was particularly disappointing. The article quoted a United Nations Refugee Agency spokesman in Geneva as calling for for dialogue between the government and Bengalis. What the spokesman actually said was that UNHCR wants to see dialogue between the government and IDPs.

It could be an innocent mistake but the misquotation hints at the broader problems in the polarised media coverage of Rakhine State. It’s time for all journalists and editors to lift our game. The media has an important role to play as an educator and shaper of opinions. Publications should use this power constructively and not seek to undermine those working for a future in which all can enjoy their fundamental human rights.

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