Sunday, May 08, 2005

Terrorism and Propaganda in and about Burma/Myanmar

This FBC Posting contains:

1). Terrorism and Propaganda in and about Burma/Myanmar
2). The Latest Rumbling in the Blogosphere: Questions About Ethics

Compiler's Remark
Terrorism and Propaganda in and about Burma/Myanmar
Zarni, Free Burma Coalition
In the age of terrorism and increased violence conflicts, our country has arrived, finally.

Terrorism is, in the words of a renown scholar of violent conflicts, 'a weapon of the weak.'

The full impact of yesterday's terrorist bombings in Rangoon is yet to be felt in the Burmese society at large and within the opposition movement. Most definitely, yesterday's bombings are a watershed event in themodern history of Burma and her internal violent conflicts. For citizens - not even those who are not directly involved in the conflict - are no longer immune from the country's protracted conflict.

Regardless of who carried out the bombings that killed a dozen innocent civilians and injured more than 160, such depraved act is categorically'terroristic', politically motivated and obviously carried out in cold blood. Such heinous acts must be condemned categorically and the perpetrators broughtto justice. The military government points finger at exiled opposition groups (such as the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the ethnic armed resistance groups including the Shan State Army - South and the Karen NationalUnion, both operating along the Thai-Burmese borders) as the organizationsresponsible for yesterday's terrorist bombings.

On their part, the opposition groups such as the KNU states officially that the regime in Rangoon may have been behind these terroristic attacks on innocent civilians, as a way of establishing more repressive policy and measures againstthe opposition groups throughout the country, citing a historical example of the Nazi regime bombing its own Parliament.

Meanwhile, the public is said toview the government as the main suspect.

From now on, all sides are most likely to step up their propaganda offensives aimed at undermining and discrediting.

Already, a Western missionary group, namely the Christian Solidarity Worldwide, has stepped up its media campaign against the State Peace and Development Council in Rangoon, using sensationalized news such as the Burma Army's alleged use of 'chemical weapons' - albeit the CSW's 'strong evidence' being based on sketchy information about both the nature of the weapons allegedly used and the resultant symptoms allegedly found on several ethnicminority soldiers.

All conflicts, once protracted, take on new dimensions and sustain themselves. Parties in conflict tend to become progressively better equipped to continue the existing conflict, rather than to de-escalate it.

The outrightly propaganda organs of both the Burmese opposition and the regime's state controlled media will continue to wage propaganda wars againsteach other. As these organs begin to tread on this treacherous road, citizens, exiles or within Burma, may need to equip themselves with some critical media skills, which will enable them to sort junk and media-spins from factual, authentic news stories and reporting.

An article which appeared in today's New York Times may be of relevance here.

Questions about ethics in the Blogosphere have been raised before, and they arebeing raised again now. Media scandals involving less than professional (Read respectable) practices have flared up from time to time. Scandals of varying degrees of severity have hit the world's most respected media organizations including CBS, BBC, the New York Times and so on.

Consequently, there are media-watch-dogs whose mission it is to monitor and assess how much integrityand fairness are in the reporting by various media organizations.

Although there is, in the final analysis, no such thing as unbiased reporting or objectivity in journalism, professional journalists in all mediums of reporting set professional standards for their craft and/or try to meet high standards set by the media organizations which they work for.

In contrast, throughout modern history since the Cold War started after the World War II opposition radio stations and publications are permitted tooperate, with a lower set of professional standards and expectations vis-a-visthe fully fledged media organizations. Radio Free Europe or Radio Free Asia came to mind.

As a result, members of these media organizations don't feel they need to observe high standards of journalistic codes and conventions. Manyof these 'reporters' are exiles and expats from respective countries, and lack proper professional credentialsor training. They have a clear mission of pushing for certain political agenda, promote certain political goals. In short, these reporters' are there to advance a cause.

Their mission is avowedly promoting free press in Europe or Asia or whatever the case might be.

But the public perceive these media organizations as institutions designed to help bring down existing authoritarian regimes, as it were, contrary to their publicly stated missions for fostering free media.

There are obviously differences in the way respectable, established media organizations go about reporting and semi- or outrightly - propaganda institutions operate.

To give an example, before a story can be aired, printed or posted on the website, reporting done by a professional media establishment requires two different sources in order to verify the vality and authenticity of an event. This is not the case if a news organization operates as a propaganda wing,directly or indirectly, of a social movement as such organization can air, print or post stories without ever having an independent source to verify theauthenticity of a given story.

As human beings, even professional reporters are biased and have their own preferences or personally held views on a given topic, not to mention propagandists in reporters' disguise working in opposition media.

And also reporting by media organizations reflects ideological orientations of those who call theshots in those organizations. For instance, the New York Times is categorized, rightly or wrongly, as 'liberal' while the Wall Street Journal is viewed as pro-management, pro-business elite, and so on. In UK, the Times owned by right-wing Australian-born, British-citizen Rupert Murdoch is considered conservative while the Independent and the Guardian are known to promote left orleft-of-the-center views.

Further, the Voice of America's editorials will, generally, have to be in support of Washington's policies. The views expressed in Pravada or Truth will be reflective of Kremlin's agenda while the People's Daily will take its cues and guidelines from the Chinese Communist Party.

Regardless of one's ideological orientation, having high standards in reportingunder the banner of a respectable media organization serves to ensure that the reading or listening public is being fed reliable news, as opposed to merely loads of propaganda. This way, the excesses of politically or ideologically driven human reporters are checked throughout the process. By definition, propaganda is, in the long run, toxic to public's intellectual well-being.
One unwritten golden rule for propagandists is not to begin to believe in one's own propaganda.

The real media's mission is, by contrast, to expose the public to different ideas, ideals, turn of historical and contemporary events, and so on and allow the audiences to reach their own conclusions and understandings of the unfoling events and processes.

Because the political and society conflicts in Burma or Myanmar continue to rage on, a normal functioning media with its adherence to high standards of journalism, cannot be expected to be found in the Burma context. This statement applies equally to both the government's organs such as the New Light of Myanmar or the pro-democracy opposition's media organizations run bythe Burmese exiles, be they in Thailand, India or in the West.

Both sides are engaged in the war of positions, claiming to serve or to be able to serve the ever elusive 'common good' of the public at large. There are no signs that this propaganda war is abating. However, while professionalism and attendant professional ethics may not yet be in practice among the parties in conflict, we as the Burmese nationals should be concerned about the level of toxicity which is involved in these propaganda wars and how it is affecting the way the Burmese examine their own country, their own problems, and their own solutions.

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May 8, 2005
The Latest Rumbling in the Blogosphere: Questions About Ethics
By ADAM COHEN, The New York Times

Bloggers like to demonize the MSM (that's Mainstream Media), but it is increasingly hard to think of the largest news blogs as being outside the mainstream. Bloggers have been showing up at national political conventions, at the World Economic Forum at Davos and on the cover of Business Week. Establishment warhorses like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. are signing on to write for Arianna Huffington's blog collective. And Garrett Graff, of FishbowlDC, broke through the cyberceiling recently and acquired the ultimate inside-the-Beltway media credential: a White House press pass.

Bloggers are not only getting access; they have also been getting results. The Drudge Report, of course, is famous for pushing stories, often with a rightward spin, onto the national media agenda, but it is not alone. Daily Kos did a brilliant job last fall of pressuring Sinclair Broadcasting not to show a hatchet-job documentary about John Kerry. And Joshua Micah Marshall has been rattling Congress with his entertaining and influential listing of where individual members stand on Social Security privatization. Blogs helped to shape, in some cases in major ways, some of the biggest stories of the last year - the presidential election, tsunami relief, Dan Rather.

The thing about influence is that, as bloggers well know, it is only a matter of time before people start trying to hold you accountable. Bloggers are so used to thinking of themselves as outsiders, and watchdogs of the LSM (that's Lame Stream Media), that many have given little thought to what ethical rules should apply in their online world. Some insist that they do not need journalistic ethics because they are not journalists, but rather activists, or humorists, or something else entirely. But more bloggers, and blog readers, are starting to ask whether at least the most prominent blogs with the highest traffic shouldn't hold themselves to the same high standards to which they hold other media.

Every mainstream news organization has its own sets of ethics rules, but all of them agree broadly on what constitutes ethical journalism. Information should be verified before it is printed, and people who are involved in a story should be given a chance to air their viewpoints, especially if they are under attack. Reporters should avoid conflicts of interest, even significant appearances of conflicts, and disclose any significant ones. Often, a conflict means being disqualified to cover a story or a subject. When errors are discovered or pointed out by internal or external sources, they must be corrected. And there should be a clear wall between editorial content and advertising.

Bloggers often invoke these journalistic standards in criticizing the MSM, and insist on harsh punishment when they are violated. The blogs that demanded Dan Rather's ouster accused him of old-school offenses: not sufficiently checking the facts about President Bush's National Guard service, refusing to admit and correct errors, and having undisclosed political views that shaded the journalism. Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive, resigned this year after a blogmob attacked him for a reported statement at the World Economic Forum at Davos that the military had aimed at journalists in Iraq and killed 12 of them. Their complaint was even more basic than in Mr. Rather's case: they were upset that Mr. Jordan said something they believed to be untrue.

But Mr. Rather's and Mr. Jordan's misdeeds would most likely not have landed them in trouble in the world of bloggers, where few rules apply. Many bloggers make little effort to check their information, and think nothing of posting a personal attack without calling the target first - or calling the target at all. They rarely have procedures for running a correction. The wall between their editorial content and advertising is often nonexistent. (Wonkette, a witty and well-read Washington blog, posts a weekly shout-out inside its editorial text to its advertisers, including partisan ones like Democrats.org.) And bloggers rarely disclose whether they are receiving money from the people or causes they write about.

A few bloggers have begun calling for change. There have even been fledgling attempts to create ethical guidelines, like the ones found at Cyberjournalist.net. Defenders of the status quo argue that ethics rules are not necessary in the blogosphere because truth emerges through "collaboration," and that bias and conflicts of interest are rooted out by "transparency." But "collaboration" is a haphazard way of defending against dishonesty and slander, and blogs are actually not all that transparent. MSM journalists write under their own names. Someone would be likely to notice if a newspaper reporter covering a campaign was also on the campaign's staff. But it is hard to know who many bloggers are, and whether they are paid to take the positions they are espousing.

Richard Hofstadter noted in "The Age of Reform" that American reformers had been prone to an "enormous amount of self-accusation." Throughout history, reform movements have ostentatiously held themselves to higher standards than the institutions they attacked. The political reformers who took on Tammany Hall declared that they would not accept patronage jobs. Members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union took a Temperance Pledge.

Many bloggers who criticize the MSM's ethics, however, are in the anomalous position of holding themselves to lower standards, or no standards at all. That may well change. Ana Marie Cox, who edits Wonkette, notes that blogs are still "a very young medium," and that "things have yet to be worked out." Before long, leading blogs could have ethics guidelines and prominently posted corrections policies.

Bloggers may need to institutionalize ethics policies to avoid charges of hypocrisy. But the real reason for an ethical upgrade is that it is the right way to do journalism, online or offline. As blogs grow in readers and influence, bloggers should realize that if they want to reform the American media, that is going to have to include reforming themselves.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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Rebel Bombings Kill 11 People in Myanmar

By AYE AYE WIN, Associated Press Writer
Sat May 7, 4:08 PM ET YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Three explosions rocked Myanmar's capital on Saturday, killing 11 people and wounding 162 others in the latest bombings blamed on ethnic rebels in the military-ruled country.

The blasts occurred in rapid succession at a convention center and two bustling supermarkets in neighborhoods across the city of 5 million people starting around mid-afternoon. It was not immediately known how many people died at each site. tate television said several ethnic rebel groups, including the Karen National Union and the Shan State Army, were behind the attacks.

It called the perpetrators "terrorists" who were trying to disrupt "stability and tranquility."
TV footage of the bombing sites showed storefronts littered with rubble and broken glass and floors splattered with blood along with a public advisory urging Yangon residents to remain alert for further violence.

Authorities shut down markets across Yangon over security concerns after the blasts, which came less than two weeks after a purported rebel bombing at a market in the northern city of Mandalay that killed two women and wounded 15 other people.

The first bomb on Saturday blew up at an exhibition hall where a Thai trade fair was under way, killing three people from Myanmar, including a Buddhist monk, and wounding many others, a security official said on condition of anonymity.

Myanmar officials are often reluctant to speak on the record for fear of being reprimanded by the country's secretive military regime. Some Thais attending the convention were hurt when people rushed to escape the hall following the blast, which blew out windows as high as the second floor of the building.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra instructed Thai citizens in Yangon to move to safe areas or to go to the Thai Embassy to await a military flight scheduled to arrive from Bangkok on Sunday to evacuate them.

But a Thai diplomat in Yangon said the plan applied only to Thais who attended the trade fair.

The second explosion tore through a City Mart supermarket in northern Yangon, wounding several people and wrecking the store's exterior. Soldiers moved in to guard the area while smoke poured out of the ground-floor supermarket.

The final explosion struck northwestern Yangon's Dagon shopping center at about 3 p.m., wounding many people."I heard a loud explosion and saw several sales girls in their gray and light yellow uniforms rushing out of the City Mart with blood streaming down from their faces," said Hla Hla, a 32-year-old resident who arrived there minutes after the blast.

Large window panes were blown out and appliances from the store's shelves were scattered amid debris on the ground floor of the 11-story building, while black smoke billowed out from the supermarket, residents said.Security forces blocked off the main roads in the area, while riot police with batons and shields stood guard and tried to shoo away residents, warning them that there could be more explosions."We managed to escape, but some of my friends were hurt," a saleswoman said, crying.

More than a dozen people wounded in the blast were taken to the city's Yangon General Hospital, where ambulances arrived with bloodied victims and anxious relatives waited for news of their kin.In one of the hospital's wards, dozens of the wounded were seen with severe burns, head wounds or lying unconscious and covered with blood.

The military has ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, since 1962.

The current regime took power in 1988 after brutally crushing a pro-democracy uprising. It keeps tight control over the population and anti-government violence is unusual, often bringing severe punishment. The junta also blamed the April 26 bombing of the market in Mandalay on unidentified rebels and state media reported several other rebel attacks last month. Myanmar has more than a dozen ethnic rebel groups, but most have signed cease-fire accords with the junta.

The Karen rebel group, which has sought autonomy in eastern Myanmar for more than half a century in what is one of the world's longest-running insurgencies, is the largest major ethnic group that hasn't signed such an agreement.

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OFFICE OF THE SUPREME HEADQUARTERS
KAREN NATIONAL UNIONKAWTHOOLEI KNU
Statement on Bomb Attacks in Rangoon City

May 8, 2005

The SPDC has issued a statement alleging that the KNU, KNPP, SSA and NCGUB carried out three bomb attacks in Rangoon on May 7, 2005, killing 11 and wounding 162 civilians. Regarding this matter, the KNU would like to issue a statement as follows. Mass killing of innocent civilians like this is an outrageous atrocity of inhuman act and we, the KNU, strongly oppose and condemn it. The KNU is not an organization relying on terrorism and violence. It is a political organization which has been leading the revolutionary resistance of the Karen people, with valid and correct political goals.

The KNU is an organization of the people, by the people and for the people.

For that reason, it has the duty only to defend the people and has no reason to harm them.

Accordingly, the KNU has nothing to do with the bomb attacks. Though the KNU has nothing to do with Ye-Lamaing attack, Kyaukpya village attack in Mone Township and now the bomb attacks in Rangoon, the unfounded allegations against the KNU by the SPDC is a wicked plot by it to make the KNU appear as a terrorist organization in the domestic and international arenas and we forcefully denounce it.In the pre-WW II period, there had been an incident in which the Nazi regime clandestinely carried out arson attack on the German parliament building and then accused the opposition of being the perpetrators.

The bomb attack in Mandalay Zaygyo bazaar and the present bomb attacks in Rangoon are systematic and premeditated attacks of horrendous magnitude against the innocents. After these attacks and nefarious accusations, there can be more repression of the opposition and the people.

For that reason, we must be alert to the development of such machinations. We have been relentlessly striving for the emergence of tripartite dialogue for resolution of political problems by political means, a process which is best for all the forces.

However, instead of the emergence a political dialogue, there has been only disturbing developments. If the SPDC continues to refuse to resolve political problems through dialogue, more disturbing situation could arise and, for that reason, we, the KNU, strongly urge the SPDC to relinquish its policy of total elimination and to start dialogue for resolution of political problems, without delay.

Central Headquarters Karen National Union