Govt assails UK tabloid’s ‘false news’ as Arakan probe gets underway

Govt assails UK tabloid’s ‘false news’ as Arakan probe gets underway

The State Counsellor’s Office has said the government is considering taking action against the Daily Mail for accusing the Burma Army of torturing a toddler with a stun gun in an online post that was later removed from the British tabloid’s website.

The Daily Mail Online on Wednesday published disturbing screenshots from a video of a crying toddler being prodded with a stun gun, with the story’s headline suggesting these were images of a “Rohingya toddler tortured with a stun gun by laughing Burmese soldier.” The post was later taken down from the website after some readers in the story’s comments section pointed out that the photos were actually from an incident that took place in Cambodia, not Burma.

An announcement from the State Counsellor’s Office on Thursday said the Daily Mail took down the article without issuing any clarification or correction on the false reporting while archived versions of the post continued to spread on social media, causing further misunderstanding about Burma and its handling of the ongoing crisis in northern Arakan State.

The State Counsellor’s Office went on to accuse other international media agencies including the BBC, CNN, Channel NewsAsia and Al Jazeera of reporting “based on irresponsible statements made by a UNHCR staff [member] named John McKissick based in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar recently,” and said the government is exploring legal channels and also press regulations as potential responses to the Daily Mail story.

It’s not the first time the Daily Mail has rankled a government in the region: In 2014, Thailand blocked access to the tabloid’s website after it posted video of the then-crown prince and his wife at a party, with the latter in a state of undress.

Burmese state media has repeatedly accused international news organisations and other elements of bias or manipulation since deadly 9 October attacks on border guard posts in northern Arakan State prompted a crackdown by security forces that has killed scores.

“False news in UK’s Daily Mail the latest in misinformation” declared the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on page one of its Friday edition.

Previous claims of misinformation lacked substantiating evidence, and with the Daily Mail pulling the offending story from its website, the government has appeared to revel in what it has framed as an I-told-you-so moment.

“State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and presidential spokesperson U Zaw Htay have consistently stated that inaccurate, manufactured news that is being fed to international news organisations is being disseminated without appropriate vetting,” read the Global New Light of Myanmar report.

Meanwhile, a newly formed, Burmese government-backed commission established to probe the northern Arakan State violence vowed on Thursday to be fair and transparent in its investigation, in accordance with international standards.

The 13-member commission led by Vice President Myint Swe was formed at the beginning of December at the instruction of the President’s Office. It has been told to report back to the government with its findings by 31 January, 2017.

Myint Swe in a press release following the commission’s first meeting on Thursday said the investigation body was aware of the immense responsibilities it has to carry in a relatively short timeframe. Members of the commission hoped for cooperation from regional and local governments and relevant organisations as well as communities affected by the upheaval to find out how the violence started and to prevent similar incidents in the future, according to the statement.

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Another statement, released jointly on Friday by 14 countries including the United States, urged the government to restore full humanitarian aid access to northern Rakhine State, parts of which have been on lockdown since 9 October.

“We have welcomed the government’s agreement to allow a resumption of humanitarian assistance and initial deliveries to some villages,” read the statement, “but we are concerned by delays and urge all Myanmar authorities to overcome the obstacles that have so far prevented a full resumption, noting that tens of thousands of people who need humanitarian aid, including children with acute malnutrition, have been without it now for nearly two months.”

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