Hnin New | DMG
27 November 2020, Sittwe

Lawmakers representing Arakan State’s Kyauktaw Township have called on the Ministry of Information to publish a correction about state media news reports on a fire outbreak in the township in September, which they said did not reflect the reality of the situation.

Following reports on social media that the military set fire to Phayar Paung and Taung Pauk villages, the state-run Burmese-language newspapers Kyemon and Myanma Alin reported on September 9 that they were just rumours spread by certain organisations.

Military personnel and Kyauktaw Township police were ferrying policemen, who were assigned to Apaukwa police station in Kyauktaw, on September 3 when the villages went up in flames, according to the state-run newspapers’ reports. 

The convoy was attacked with remotely detonated explosive devices near the villages, and some security personnel were injured and two Arakan Army (AA) fighters were killed during an ensuing exchange of fire, said the state media reports, adding: “To verify the reports on social media, [authorities] made inspection on the ground as well as with drones, and found that only a few houses were burnt. According to the accounts of local residents, the AA burned down the houses of civilians who opposed the armed group.”

The state media reports were in line with what the Tatmadaw True News Information had said a day earlier, on September 8, though the newspapers did not cite the Tatmadaw as the source.

But what really happened on the ground was different from those reports, say the MPs, who sent letters on September 26 to the Myanmar Press Council and the Information Ministry asking them to see to it that the truth was published, according to Lower House lawmaker U Oo Tun Win of Kyauktaw Township.

The Myanmar Press Council and Information Ministry sent a reply on November 24 saying they had told the responsible persons to ensure accuracy and compliance with media ethics in reporting; and that they had also informed the source about the MPs’ complaint and also asked it to take necessary actions in response.

“What was reported in the newspapers was quite the opposite of the accounts of villagers. As the newspapers were distributed across the country, [the Information Ministry] should only respond through newspapers. We only want a correction and the true story to be published,” said U Oo Tun Win.

It is sad that state-owned media, which represents the government, made reports based on the accounts of an organisation without knowing the actual situation on the ground, said the lawmaker, adding that it also tarnishes the image of the government.

The Myanmar Press Council cannot independently verify the reports, but will intervene if necessary, said its secretary U Myint Kyaw.

“We’ve asked for detailed information from the lawmakers. When we get information, we will present it to the state-owned media, and if they did make the reports based on wrong information, we’ll ask them to hold the responsible persons accountable. If the information [sent by lawmakers] was wrong, we’ll announce that it was wrong,” he said.

Fire destroyed more than 180 houses in Payar Paung and Taung Pauk villages on September 3, killing two villagers, locals said.

Residents of the fire-ravaged villages are currently sheltering in nearby villages such as Thawunkaing, Kyauktan, Thitaung, Shwehlaing and Thayetoak.

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