The United Nations has called the crisis a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” but the Myanmar government maintains this is a targeted operation to purge the state of Rohingya fighters – a narrative they have gone to great lengths to uphold.
As Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK explains, “We’ve seen the government of Burma (Myanmar) very strictly controlling the access and news coming out of Rakhine State and trying to dominate how it is reported and trying to intimidate domestic and international media organisations, who are trying to investigate and find out what really has gone on.”
Rohingya refugees who have escaped the violence have stories of rape, torture, and massacres at the hands of the Myanmar security forces – stories that most media outlets in Myanmar shy away from.
But one broadcaster has made it its mission to tell those stories: Rohingya Vision TV.
Rohingya Vision TV, or RVision, is run by exiled Rohingya, broadcasting from headquarters in Malaysia. The channel relies on a significant network of undercover citizen journalists in Rakhine who work at great risk to offer a rare glimpse behind the authorities’ veil of secrecy.
Its founder, Muhammad Noor, told The Listening Post he started the network to tell the Rohingya side of this story and to shed light on a community that has been under-reported and persecuted for decades.
“We started to get news, actual facts and figures from the ground and started to broadcast. International media are not allowed in Rakhine, so they cannot do their job. So now we have to take over the job. We are the news breaker of Rakhine because we convert citizens into citizen journalists, existing people into journalists, training them and getting the information out whatever possible equipment they have,” he said.
And it’s not just the government’s version of events RVision is up against. When it comes to stories of the Rohingya, most media outlets in Myanmar simply agree with the authorities’ official line
Francis Wade, author of Myanmar’s Enemy Within explained that “the vast majority of journalists, Burmese journalists, inside the country, appear to share the government and the military’s antagonism towards the Rohingya; there’s a real lack of will in reporting critically on the military and a real lack of robust, vigorous, media that cast scrutiny on the military’s actions against civilians – regardless of whether there is or there isn’t space for independent journalism.”
When Myanmar started its transition from military to civilian rule in 2011, there was real hope that space would open up for independent journalism but any hope has since been shattered.
“I think we’ve seen since Aung San Suu Kyi came to power a gradual slide in press freedom and increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and that accelerated since the military offensive in August last year. The hopes that there would be an increase in media freedom under Aung San Suu Kyi, that the repressive laws of the junta era would finally be repealed, those hopes are gone, they’re dashed”, Mark Famaner said.
Which makes outlets like Rohingya Vision TV all the more important when trying to understand all sides of the story.
Muhammad Noor, cofounder and managing director, Rohingya Vision TV
Francis Wade, author, Myanmar’s Enemy Within: the Making of a Muslim Other
Mark Farmaner, director, Burma Campaign UK
Aye Aye Win, former Myanmar bureau chief, AP
Source: Al Jazeera