Apple and Google ban Burma junta's TV app 36 hours after launch

Apple and Google ban Burma junta's TV app 36 hours after launch

A mobile application personally launched by Burma’s coup leader has been pulled from international app stores less than two days after its release. 

The app — which boasted the suitably forgettable title: “MRTV’s Worldwide Internet Mobile Satellite Data App” — was removed from Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store just 32 hours after going live following mass criticism from pressure groups and the Burmese public.

Activists Justice For Myanmar (JFM), who confirmed the app’s removal in a statement, yesterday made an impassioned argument against MRTV App & Web, a product developed by creatively named US firm, Apps Web Social LLC.  

The developer had allegedly listed the military’s media application on Apple’s App Store and Google Play on behalf of the junta. JFM welcomed the app’s removal on the grounds that its purpose was to spread fake news and hate speech.

Min Aung Hlaing had delivered a personal speech at the app’s launch event in Naypyidaw on May 4. The instigator of Burma’s murderous coup took the opportunity to orate on the vital importance and impact of news media, arguing that Burma must act “wisely and consciously” to combat what he called the “strategic” use of the press by “larger countries” to influence the media space of smaller nations in a variety of ways in “the age of information technology”. 

“I believe that the role of the media is crucial for freedom of expression. The press informs good governance and development which are essential in a democratic society,” said the soldier. “Sometimes, powerful groups with influence in politics and economics dominate the media. Therefore, the feelings of the public and their suffering are completely ignored. It is unconscionable that [Burma’s independent] media is spreading false news, fake news, and hate speech to incite unrest in the country.”

The military has systematically banned almost every independent media outlet in Burma since March 2021, and is considered by Reporters Sans Frontiers to be the world’s worst jailer of journalists. State-run MRTV — which had moderated during the NLD’s reign — has since become a tool of fear for the junta, taking relish in broadcasting images of tortured youths, belligerent political speeches encouraging murder and discrimination, and fantastical scenes of a prosperous, calm Burma — propaganda which Burma’s citizens say portrays “North Burma”, a reference to the regime of Kim Jong Un. 

It has been reported that MRTV’s canceled app was developed in cooperation with Myanmar Service Group Co. Ltd, a private company owned by “Bullet” Hla Swe, a prominent ultra-nationalist publisher and former Tatmadaw officer. The firebrand himself claimed that he spent the eight months since his release from prison working on the product.

The banning of the app follows the removal from the online space of a number of military-linked assets. After stalling for a number of months, Facebook — a social media platform much maligned in Burma for its alleged role in catalysing the Rohingya genocide — has removed pages belonging to a number of junta personnel, military-linked businesses, and pro-military media outlets, including that of MRTV. In addition, more than a dozen military-affiliated news channels have been removed from YouTube, a video streaming platform. 

Activists say that more work must be done to remove virulent pro-military accounts, especially those hosted by TikTok and the Telegram messaging app: both products abound with violent pro-military content and information that has directly led to the arrests and murder of scores of people.

Bemusingly, the military used its launch event to claim the app would allow it to beam content to audiences the world over via satellite. 

“The MRTV app has been leased to four mobile service satellites orbiting the earth. It can be accessed by 46 Myanmar embassies abroad and it should soon be available in 181 countries and four languages: English, Spanish, French, and German,” Min Aung Hlaing proudly proclaimed, just 36 hours before the app was made inaccessible.

At the same launch event, junta information minister Maung Maung Ohn announced that a native competitor to YouTube — M Tube, a video streaming platform — was in the later stages of development and is slated to soon be released. 

It remains to be seen if Apple or Google will host the product, and, indeed, if Min Aung Hlaing’s satellites will succeed in beaming pro-military Burmese soap operas to audiences in Spanish.