BANGKOK (AP) — A U.S. government-affiliated broadcaster that provides news to countries in Asia where freedom of information is restricted is losing its partner in Myanmar after refusing to stop using the word “Rohingya” to describe an oppressed Muslim minority.
Monday was the last day DVB Media Group’s network would carry Radio Free Asia’s television broadcasts, RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan said. He said RFA told Myanmar authorities that it was unwilling to bow to their pressure to use a term other than Rohingya.
About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since Myanmar’s government launched a violent counterinsurgency campaign last August in western Myanmar, where most Rohingya lived. Many people in Myanmar call the Rohingya “Bengali” to reflect the contention that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh rather than natives.
The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an official ethnic minority and denies most the right to citizenship and its privileges.
Myanmar is the second Southeast Asian nation in 10 months where RFA has lost access to local broadcasters. Cambodia last August prohibited local FM stations from carrying RFA programming, one of several actions restricting the media in what was seen as a move to silence critical voices ahead of a general election this July.
Mahajan said RFA had been broadcasting on DVB’s channel since early October last year. A May 7 memo about DVB’s case from the government broadcasting agency Myanma Radio and Television to private broadcasters said the direct use of the “controversial word ‘Rohingya'” was a violation of contractual codes to which broadcasters are bound.
A statement by RFA President Libby Liu provided Monday to The Associated Press declared that the U.S. broadcaster “will not compromise its code of journalistic ethics, which prohibits the use of slurs against ethnic minority groups. RFA will continue to refer to the Rohingya as the ‘Rohingya’ in our reports. Use of other terms, even those that fall short of being derogatory, would be inaccurate and disingenuous to both our product and our audience.”
“By forbidding the use of the word ‘Rohingya,’ Myanmar’s government is taking an Orwellian step in seeking to erase the identity of a people whose existence it would like to deny,” she said. “RFA will continue to provide audiences in Myanmar with access to trustworthy, reliable journalism, particularly when reporting on issues that local and state-controlled media ignores and suppresses.”
Mahajan said RFA’s programming for Myanmar would remain available on its website, on Facebook and YouTube and on shortwave radio, and its reporters will continue to work in the country.
In Cambodia, the cessation of RFA broadcasts on local media last year was followed by the closing under pressure of its office and in November by the arrest of two of its former reporters on espionage charges that are generally considered to be attempts to intimidate.
RFA, which is loosely modeled on longtime broadcaster Radio Free Europe, carries broadcasts to China, Cambodia, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam as well as Myanmar. It is funded by the U.S. government but run by an independent board.
DVB — the Democratic Voice of Burma — was originally established in 1992 as a shortwave radio station in Norway to beam uncensored news to Myanmar when it was still under military rule. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its relationship with RFA.
This story has been corrected to show that broadcasts on DVB began in early October, not end of September.