Report on Media Coverage of the Recent Violence in Burma
by students of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media
Civil society activists and human rights campaigners
in India are very critical of Delhi’s silence on the mounting violence
in Burma. The Indian media has been critical in its editorial pages
as well. It has denounced the double standards maintained by the
likes of Sonia Gandhi who made vague statements at the United Nations
about non-violence even as the Burma violence escalated.
Despite the media’s
support of the pro-democracy movement, there have been gaping holes
in its coverage. For instance, when the petroleum minister Murli
Deora went to Burma during the protests to sign an agreement, the
Indian media largely ignored the news. Even as the papers editorialized
and talked emphatically of Gandhian values, they allowed the coverage
to die down slowly as the days progressed, so much so that on October
18 both the Indian Express and The Hindu ignored coverage
of India’s close, strategically important and arguably most turbulent
neighbor. Given the geographical and economic proximity of the countries,
democratic India should be paying a lot more attention.
Perhaps the media
has chosen the silent criticism approach because it does not want
to be at loggerheads with the Indian government. The Indian media
is pro-democracy but it wants to exercise caution because it does
not want to affect India’s strategic relations with Myanmar. Whatever
the reason for their caution, the print media has been more active
in criticizing the government compared to television media, which
has simply glossed over the entire issue.
The Indian Print Media covered the Myanmar crisis fairly well despite
the simultaneous furor caused by the politics of Karnataka and Pakistan.
The three major national dailies, The Hindu, The Times
of India (TOI) and The New Indian Express (IE),
carried the news on the front page at the peak of the crisis. In
contrast, the Deccan Herald (DH), published out of
Bangalore, always carried the news in its foreign pages.
As the protests
in Myanmar became more powerful, the newspapers increased their
coverage. They gave detailed background and examined causes and
effects in their editorials. The Hindu, for instance, published
four stories and an editorial on September 28th, one of the worst
days of crackdown by the Junta on the protestors. The IE
used big pictures to give intimacy and authenticity of the issue
to the readers. The only real exception was the DH, whose
level of coverage did not increase much: it published one op-ed
piece between September 26 and October 10 at a time when the other
papers were running numerous op-eds and voicing their views.
The editorial voice
of the papers sympathized with the people’s movement and criticized
the Indian government for its “hand-off” attitude with regard to
Burma. Viewpoints from world leaders expressing their disapproval
of the Junta’s actions were highlighted in their reports. The IE,
maintaining its anti-establishment heritage, questioned the international
community which feels ‘concerned’ even as they stand by and watch
the monks and peace workers being subjected to unthinkable violence.
The papers wrote
in favor of India and China raising their collective voice to restore
peace in Myanmar. The TOI’s viewpoint, reflected in most
other papers was that Gandhian India must uphold its values of democracy
and the government must raise its voice loud and clear against the
military rule. And it must do this even at the expense of profit,
with regards to the Shwe gas project deal. Such a stance will help
prove India to be a major player in world politics, opined The
Asian Age, especially since the West is rather powerless in
the closed society of Myanmar.
The fact that India’s
government did not protest against the Junta with a stronger voice
irked the Deccan Herald. Its editorial called India’s diplomatic
neutrality a ‘shame’ and ‘unfortunate’. India’s muted response is
‘an attempt to avoid going down that road’ of losing its benefits
of gas, as it did when it supported Suu Kyi in the 1990s, it said.
The junta has been suppressing the democratic uprisings ever since
1988. If India does not take a solid stand, the country will lose
the general goodwill of the international community, the piece opined.
Indian television supported the pro-democratic people’s movement,
but surprisingly, the coverage and analysis has not been in depth
enough, considering that Myanmar is India’s neighbor. The media
has focused on the trials faced by the monks at the hands of the
junta, but this coverage has not been set against a historical background
or timeline of events. The causes leading up to the present situation
has not been a priority for the Indian media.
were restricted to the international section of the news, and at
other times, tickers mentioned the violence in short sentences.
In contrast, the
coverage given by the Western media has been comprehensive and detailed.
The BBC covered all new developments, gave in depth background
of the Myanmar issue, and examined the roles played by neighboring
and Western nations.
to a few questions
Did major Indian Newspapers cover the event? What was their general
Though major Indian
Newspapers covered the Burmese crisis, the Indian media has not
kept up the focused coverage like the international media has.
When the news broke,
papers like the Times of India, The Indian Express,
The Hindu, Asian Age, Deccan Herald, and Hindustan
Times covered the Burma crisis. They carried news on the crisis
on the International as well as the National pages. A few had front-page
of the articles were sympathetic to the pro-democratic voice of
the people. The newspapers carried reports about the moral support
for the monks from the UN, and other countries like the UK and Japan.
The main stream media focused on India’s closeness to the Burmese
military regime and they tried to explain India’s position saying
“New Delhi has sympathy for the troubled nation, but energy needs
and relations with China are complicating the equation”, an example
from the Business Week.
The Times of India: Swapan Dasgupta’s article is headlined
‘India needs Burma’.
reads: “Burma was always regarded as the buffer zone between India
and an expansionist China. But India abdicated its responsibilities
and allowed Beijing to become the dominant influence in Burma. Today,
China lurks over India from Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal and Burma. Its
shadow has encroached into the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman islands.
For India, the upsurge in Burma is an opportunity to turn the clock
there were no front-page stories. The news appeared in the International
News section. The paper was against the military rule in Burma.
India’s expected role, as seen by the West, received coverage. Mark
Malloch Brown, UK minister for Asia and Africa, told TOI in an exclusive conversation, “India should say they support (UN
special envoy) Ibrahim Gambari’s mission. India does not want to
be drawn down the sanctions route. There’s a way to prevent that.
India should offer Burma incentives to change, more engagements
but with the threat that if the regime does not change there will
further tightening the noose around military rulers in Myanmar,
the US President George W Bush has announced more sanctions targeting
individuals and entities and has asked countries like India and
China to review their policies and law vis-à-vis the regime in Yangon.
headline ran View from London: Myanmar strife: Europe puts moral onus
on India: Forty-one days after the protests began in Myanmar
and blood once more was spilt on its streets, the talk in European
capitals is all about bringing pressure to bear on India to “do
names of people who helped in providing food and other necessities
were mentioned. The business perspective with regard to the ONGC
not withdrawing its operations in Burma was mentioned once as a
headline. Public anger was being presented clearly in their reports.
with monks brought out the anguish of the people of Burma. Times had information about the political history of Burma, the sequence
of events and the reason for the eruption of this imbroglio. The
editorials explained India’s position.
paper’s stance is that India can do what Europe can’t for Burma.
The editorials spoke about innocent people who were put into prison.
also spoke about how other countries will be affected by the violence
in Burma. India has little to gain from Burma but as a country that
has championed democratic values for ages, the paper said that the
government needs to raise its voice loud and clear.
editorial explained the structure of Burmese society; another, the
difference between the earlier pro-democracy movements and this
one. The main difference pointed out was that youth are more active,
and there exists now a wide and informal network of communication.
Times of India, through its editorials, urged India to do something for Burma.
It said: “Burma must return to our mental map. India needs Burma
more than Burma needs it.”
had a story Supping With the Junta in its Oct 8th issue.
“Even as the cry for democracy rings out in Yangon, a pragmatic
India sides with the Generals to safeguard its strategic interests.”
Many such articles focus on India’s needs and business interests.
Here follows the stand that the different newspapers took in the
Indian Express C. Raja Mohan was critical of the Indian Government
signing “petroleum contracts with the Burmese government earlier
this week” He said: “…when people on the streets of Burma were
demanding democracy did not necessarily imply venality. It underlined
the inertia behind the old policy that that had become increasingly
insensitive to shifting ground realities in Burma. Above all India’s
passive policy in Burma has become counterproductive from the perspective
of the national interest.”
few days later Shishir Gupta wrote a response to Rajamohan’s: Rangoon
isn’t Kathmandu: “Although the EU-US wants India to repeat its
Nepal performance in Burma, India knows that the two situations
are very different. …. India may share a 1338 km border with Burma,
but bilateral trade is a sluggish $ 569 million, with Burma having
direct sea access and strategic lines of infrastructure and communication
to Kunming in China.… … … The UPA political leadership, in particular
the Congress leaders, may privately be supportive of Aung San Suu
Kyi and the monks now on Rangoon’s streets, but overtly it will
have to deal with whosoever is in power; such is the security calculus.
Delhi also knows that with the Burmese army controlling every part
of society, transfer of power in that country will have to come
through negotiations and not through revolution or isolation of
the military regime. New Delhi has not forgotten that two years
after Suu Kyi was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International
Understanding in 1993, the Burmese army suddenly withdrew in the
midst of Operation Goldenbird and the surrounded militants escaped
from the Indian dragnet. It does not want to visit that nightmare
Express editorial says the basis for India’s reluctance to
pull up the military regime in Burma is because of: “the need for
Burmese Army’s cooperation in dealing with the insurgencies in the
Northeast, Burma’s natural role as a land-bridge to Southeast Asia,
and the importance of preventing Burma’s total dependence on China
for external support. One should probably add India’s oil and energy
interests to this list.”
of the stories wanted the Indian Government to take action because
not doing so would give China an advantage over India. However,
one does not find them supporting the cause of democracy in Burma.
The print media wrote in favor of India and China raising their
voice to restore peace in Burma. They had opinion polls (internet
and SMS polls) seeking public opinion of how India should react
to the problem.
Dasgupta talks about “the Gandhi legacy has added to India’s profound
embarrassment”, and the heart of every Indian being with the pro-democratic
movement.” The editorial opinion is that in Burma, India would prefer
a regime wary of China.
question international attitude of watching monks and peace workers
being subjected to unthinkable violence. Even though the world continues
to feel ‘concerned’, they choose to stand by the ‘general’ and watch
the atrocities. The paper says international communities are ‘being
made spectators to the shocking violation of human rights’.
The Hindu: The Hindu looks at the protests
with a sympathetic eye. An editorial by David Miliband fails to
come out with any concrete suggestions to resolve the issue.
David Miliband is the Foreign Secretary of UK. His editorial column
elicits sympathy but focuses more on what can be done.
believes the solution lies in an integrated community of leaders
with Suu Kyi playing a central role. Myanmar now needs a platform
for opinions on all factions to be expressed and heard. Miliband
sees the visit of UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari as the first
step in the process. He puts the onus on the whole world (“with
increased inter-dependence”), particularly India, who shares border
with Myanmar. “Burma’s neighbours including India, are best placed
to put the pressure on Burma’s military leadership.”
Age: The Asian Age carried almost 50 reports
of the crisis in Burma beginning September. An opinion column by
S. Nihal Singh says that the incident has forced India to think
of the need to play “realpolitik” and balancing practical power
politics with ideals. This is the test for the country’s diplomacy
“in its aspiration to be…a major power.” India cannot afford to
stay neutral here. The world looks up to India as also China to
play a major role. India “has been cultivating the junta in Burma
for reasons of self interest,” Singh says. It has just finished
signing a gas deal with Myanmar. Moreover, it needs Myanmar’s help
in handling the influx in the North-East. China’s proximity to the
country also gives it strategic importance.
The Asian Age emphasized India’s role in the political situation of its neighbours.
And how the country could prove itself to be worthy of the ‘major
power’ tag that it seeks.
Hindustan Times: The Hindustan Times had an in-depth analysis of the Burma uprising. It carried
a backgrounder on the series of events leading to the crisis. They
had opinion polls. Reactions of the UN and other countries was covered.
Karan Thapar questioned
‘the voice of Indian democracy’ being ‘silent about the momentous
struggle for liberty and rights in neighboring Burma?’ He was critical
of the Indian reaction to the crisis and said “What has sealed our
lips? The fact that the Burmese junta may cease to curb the activities
of Indian militants and secessionists from Burmese soil. I don’t
deny that it’s an important concern. It affects the integrity of
He went on to say
“Our pact with them is Faustian and we need to break free of it.
the 60th year of our Independence, Burma is a test for Indian democracy.
Alas, we are in danger of failing it.”
in his piece questioned the International calls on Burma. He pointed
out that urging Beijing to join in on the pressure was ironic. “The
world’s largest autocracy is exhorted to help promote democracy
or, at least, help check political suppression in another state.
Is state repression greater in Burma or in China?” he asked
In India’s neighborhood,
the diametrically opposite Western approaches toward military-ruled
Pakistan and Burma are as jarring as the assiduous courting of the
world’s biggest human rights abuser, China. Such double standards
put undue pressure on India, as exemplified by the unwarranted calls
that it suspend all ties with Burma (renamed Myanmar by the junta).
Should the world’s most populous democracy have one freedom-related
standard in foreign policy or a different one for each of its four
large autocratically governed neighbours — Bangladesh, Burma, China
and Pakistan? Having depleted their leverage against the Burmese
junta, distant powers now advise Burma’s immediate neighbours like
India and Thailand to follow their failed sanctions policy. [more]
Deccan Herald: The Deccan Herald carried regular reports
on the Burma crisis and international reactions in its International
and National pages.
An editorial said that it is high time India spoke up against the
Burmese junta. It calls India’s diplomatic neutrality a ‘shame’
and as ‘unfortunate’. India’s muted response, it said, is ‘an attempt
to avoid going down that road’ of losing its benefits of gas, etc.
The country will lose the general goodwill of the international
community if it does not take a solid stand, the piece opined.
We all hear that the government has asked “all parties take special
care to ensure calm.” Is that all? Did the government express
its concern/disapproval of the military junta’s violent actions
to suppress peaceful demonstrations and against monks at their monasteries?
did not react strongly, as there seem to be a lot of factors involved
including security concerns, trade and bilateral issues. India is
an important investor in Burma, there seems no country better positioned
to help the people of Burma. India has been slow to break its silence
over street protests even though it has strong geographical, political
and strategic links with its eastern neighbor.
Minister Pranab Mukherjee issued a statement saying he hopes that
all sides will resolve their issues peacefully through dialogue,
and “all sections of people will be included in a broad-based process
of national reconciliation and political reform.”
Gandhi made a statement in the UN, she made a reference to Mahatma
Gandhi’s values (for peace).
Jaya Jaitley, member
of Samta Party, said, “State-to-state relations have to be based
on basic morality. Nelson Mandela would still be in jail had the
world not interfered and not done something about it and condemned
it. We seem to be picking and choosing our foreign policy for different
nations. In this case we shouldn’t be going to the United Nations
and giving a brave speech.”
“Sonia Gandhi has
shown the world that India is full of empty rhetoric and if she
says people should have moral courage, she has also gone there to
show that her own adopted country has no moral courage,” she added.
India did not react
until Wednesday, when it made a cautious official statement calling
for political reform in Burma. External Affairs Minister Pranab
Mukherjee said, “ We are concerned at the situation in Myanmar and
are monitoring it closely. It is our hope that that all sides will
resolve their issues peacefully through dialogue”.
over the protests was clearly illustrated when Petroleum Minister
Murli Deora ran into a protest by Burmese pro-democracy activists
in Delhi, before he left to Burma to sign the deal. The protesters
carried placards reading “Deora, don’t go for gas, go for democracy”
and “India stop supporting Burmese military rule”.
If Indian papers covered the events, where did it cover? How detailed?
How much importance? Any op-eds?
Indian Print Media has covered the Burma Protest fairly well. Despite
the furor of politics in Karnataka and Pakistan, the newspapers
gave a fair coverage to the Myanmar issue. When the protest was
in its early stage, all the newspapers reported it in their international
pages. But when the issue intensified, all the newspapers brought
it to the front page.
Out of the four
newspapers we have considered, namely, The Hindu, The
Times of India, Deccan Herald, New Indian Express,
all except Deccan Herald, put it on the front page. The Deccan
Herald carried the news in the foreign page.
Deccan Herald carried only one op-ed as compared
to the other three, which frequently published op- eds on the issue.
The protests and the
entire political scenario in Myanmar hardly got front- page coverage
from the Deccan Herald. The reports on the issue appeared
on the foreign news page on most days.
The newspaper gave
a regular update of the events in the country. There were news stories
reporting the monks and nuns joining the common man in the streets
to take on the military rule, albeit peacefully.
The Deccan Herald also gave a background to the story. It
spoke about how the entire fiasco in Myanmar started with the sharp
rise in fuel prices.
26 and October 10, 2007, the newspaper carried only one editorial
column dealing with this issue. The editorial spoke on the root
cause of the problem and on India’s stand on the issue. It also
suggested that India take steps to persuade the military rulers
in Myanmar as well as the National League of Democracy to hold talks
and restore democracy in the nation immediately.
The Deccan Herald had just one opinion column by Pankaj Mishra. It spoke on the role
of the monks in Myanmar—how they are looked up to as the moral answer
to the military rulers in the Asian country.
“India needs to
overtly engage the military junta in Myanmar and covertly cultivate
contact with pro-democracy forces in the country. Whenever dictatorship
in Yangon gives way to democracy in the years to come, then India
would not be at a loss. This two-pronged policy will yield results
both in the short term and long term from an Indian national security
and foreign policy perspective.”
In the beginning, the issue was treated as international news on
the international pages of The Hindu. After two days, when
the protests gained pace, it was covered on the front page of the
newspaper. But with the increasing intensity of the situation, the
newspaper wrote editorials and op-eds on the issue and also included
India’s response, considering its national interests.
24, 2007, The Hindu carried least one article of two columns
in the newspaper. Maximum coverage was on September 28, with four
stories in international and national pages accompanied by an editorial.
Earlier a human-interest
story on the Buddhists was covered. But later other angles including
international, domestic and India specific angles were covered.
As the news developed,
coverage became more and more detailed and made its way from international
page to front page and editorial sections.
They covered everything
from the UN envoy’s talks with the bureaucrats in Myanmar, to Indian
political parties’ response.
The newspaper produced
one editorial and one detailed op-ed. On September 28, four news
articles were published; two on the international page, one editorial,
and one on national news page.
Times of India: The Times of India has covered the Myanmar pro-democratic
protests well. Although most newspapers were preoccupied with the
elections in Pakistan, The Times of India gave a fair coverage
to the Myanmar issue. They started covering the issue from the September
22 and published at least one article everyday.
The coverage was
detailed and informative. The articles covered all the incidents
and gave related information of the events in Myanmar. It also published
the political history of Myanmar.
The news was mostly
covered on the international pages. Only on September 30, they carried
an article in the National page of the paper. The number of articles
increased as the protests intensified. They also published editorials
from September 24 to October 10; they carried three editorials and
two letters to the editors, about Burma. They also carried an opinion
column by an International writer in the international page of the
While The Times
of India did not publish any articles on this subject on the
front page of its newspaper, it often carried teasers on the front
page. The international pages sometimes carried more than one article
on Burma on the same day. For instance, on September 28 they carried
three articles, and on October 1, two.
Indian Express: The New Indian Express has covered the events primarily on
world pages. The placements of the news articles changed with the
nature of the news. Major news made it to the first page. Updates
were given in brief on the front page.
The coverage has
been detailed with daily updates. They used big pictures. The
New Indian Express has carried one editorial and two letters
What about Indian TV? How does it compare with CNN/BBC on
the coverage? What was their take on the event/violence?
TV has taken a pro- democratic stand on the entire issue.
media coverage is mostly on the repression inflicted by military
Junta on the Buddhist monks. The history / background that has led
Burma to its present situation has not at all been a priority for
the Indian Media. There were just tickers that mentioned about the
violence. Also it was just shown in the international section of
Indian Media has
taken an independent stand on this issue, different from the diplomatic
stand of the government of India.
The coverage given
by the West has been a comprehensive and detailed one. Like, the
BBC has covered it all from the key stories of the violence
to giving a background to Burmese issue. For example it showed a
feature- titled “Bravery shown by Burmese people-China’s role.”
The western media has covered the role -played by the foreign players
like USA, UK and China.
If the Indian media is not very much interested, why? After all,
Indian government (and people) is now talking about being a super
power and a major global player? Does it have interest in human
Until the mid-1990s,
India supported the Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement.
It was in 2004 that New Delhi changed track and welcomed military
strongman Gen Than Shwe during his visit to the Indian capital.
The priority for
the world’s largest democracy under economist Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh is now quite clear. A fast-growing economy, India is desperate
to access any major source of energy in the neighborhood including
Iran and Burma.
Burma’s huge natural
gas reserves in the country’s western province of Arakan and the
adjoining seaboard is estimated at more than 30 trillion cubic feet
or more. This is a great attraction for energy-starved India. India
has to compete with China for these resources.
India is getting
help from the Burmese army to fight insurgents in its troubled north-east,
many of whom have bases in Burma’s Sagaing Division.
forms an important buffer between India’s North-East and the Yunnan
Province of China. In the past assistance for the insurgents in
the North-East came from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh
and from Yunnan.
After the Sino-Indian
war of 1962, India suspected that some of the Chinese troops, which
attacked us in Arunachal Pradesh, had moved from Yunnan through
the Kachin State of Myanmar, by taking advantage of the absence
of Myanmar’s administrative and military presence in large
parts of the Kachin State.
in the North-East have often operated from sanctuaries in Myanmar
across the international border. A vacuum in Myanmar Government’s presence
in the Kachin State would be to China’s advantage and to India’s
It is in India’s
interest to help the Government of Myanmar to strengthen its presence
in this area.
An unfriendly Myanmar with foreign naval presence in the Bay of
Bengal would be a grave threat to India’s security. Geo-politically,
with a friendly Myanmar, India could add more substance to her ‘Look
East’ policies of building up relationships with South East Asia.
Myanmar shares common borders with Laos and Thailand.
Myanmar is rich in natural resources and has appreciable production
of crude oil, and natural gas. It has sizeable deposits of
copper, lead, tin, tungsten, steel and gold. Some of these
especially crude oil and natural gas could be an attraction for
“ India is desperate
to counter Chinese influence in Burma. This, more than anything
else, explains India’s complete reversal of its Burma policy in
the 1990s,” says Rene Egreteau, author of an acclaimed book on India’s
Burma policy, Wooing the Generals. India is now developing
ports, building roads and railways and is competing with China for
Burma’s oil and gas reserves as part of its “Look East Policy”.
Civil society activists and human rights campaigners in India
are very critical of Delhi’s silence on the mounting pro-democracy
protests in Burma.
India’s Burma policy
is full of double standards and it must change now. Former spymaster
and Burma specialist BB Nandy says the Burmese military junta has
done nothing to make India beholden to it. “The gas from the explored
blocs in Arakan has been given over to the Chinese. The Burmese
army has not undertaken a big operation against our northeastern
rebel groups like Bhutan did in 2003. The junta has taken us for
a ride, so we have no reason to support their survival,” he said.
The present policy
of Indian government towards military regime, however, has caused
growing concern for the exiled Burmese community. While they understand
the compulsion of a government, they can’t understand why India
has lately been silent on the political repression in Burma. “We
thank Indian government and the people for giving us shelter. But
that is not enough. India being the world biggest democracy has
the responsibility to actively support the democratic movement in
Burma,” said a New Delhi-based Burmese democracy activist.
If the media has been silent, was it more or less uniform?
How could that happen on its own? Is it the same old media
policy of going along with government policy? Or any indirect censorship?
Indian government has vested interest because of the Petroleum and
gas energy in Myanmar. Nehru and U Nu had built up a personal friendship
that formed the basis of Indo- Burmese relationship, which has lasted
60 years. The two countries have not once reached a point of diplomatic
standoff or conflict since independence.
In 1988-1990 India
had openly supported the forces of democracy but in 1990’s relations
with Burma thawed again. Now India and Burma are co-operating in
many fields including countering insurgency on the border, checking
narcotics smuggling across the border promoting trade and investment.
The media rather
than giving a vantage to these protestors in Myanmar has sublimed
the whole issue because it might affect the treaty that was signed
by India and Myanmar. The official line indicates that the government
is still walking a tightrope in its bid to protect India’s energy
security interests. The media rather than giving a voice to the
monks protesting on the streets of Myanmar are suppressing them.
It is high time
the press in India started talking about destruction of democracy
in neighboring countries as it is like an infection that may overtake
us before we know it. Petroleum minister, Murli Deora had been to
Burma during the protests to sign an agreement, such is the insensitivity
of the Indian government. The Indian media would definitely not
cover such news, which might tarnish the image of our country in
the global community.
The Indian media
is pro-democracy but it wants to exercise caution since it does
not want to affect India’s strategic relations with Myanmar. The
Indian media has limited control and it cannot influence the government
policies. India maintains diplomacy with Myanmar thus it is going
to mould accordingly. Thus the Indian media is exercising caution
in its coverage of the Burma issue.