Govt, Telecoms Operators Block Ethnic Media Websites During Critical Coronavirus and War Coverage

Monday, March 30, 2020

An ethnic media coalition spoke out against the blocking of its partners’ news sites on Sunday by various telecommunications providers and a government order to fight “misinformation.”

According to the BNI Multimedia Group, people using sim cards belonging to the military-backed MPT and Mytel companies have been unable to visit the websites of the Rakhine State-based Narinjara and Development Media Group (DMG) websites since March 23.

Additionally, the Karen Information Center’s (KIC) site has been blocked since March 26.

“Ethnic people are losing their right to access true information,” Nai Ko Ko Zaw, chief editor of BNI member the Salween Times, told NMG. “It’s an important time in our country. Our people need true information about the coronavirus pandemic.”

Nyo Tun, a webmaster for DMG, told NMG that people were not able to access his news organization’s site using internet data, but could do so using wifi, leading to the conclusion that the service provider is in fact implementing the block.

“We called an officer from Mytel for comment. He replied that he had received a directive, and they banned these websites according to that order,” Nyo Tun explained.

On March 23, Burma’s Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered communications operators to disallow access to websites propagating “fake news, misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and pornography.”

Ethnic media outlets insist that their sites not only do not fall into these categories but provide critical information to the public as the country continues to be embroiled in armed conflict and now confronts the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our ethnic media outlets are reporting news stories related to armed conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic in line with media ethics,” Nan Paw Gay, the chairperson of the BNI policy board, told NMG, describing the ban as an attempt by the government “to put people in the dark.”

“It’s like the government is violating our freedom of expression,” she said.

Narinjara, DMG and KIC are all registered organizations in Burma.

NMG is also a member of BNI Multimedia Group.