RFA ditches Myanmar over ‘Rohingya’

Radio Free Asia is abandoning domestic broadcasting in Myanmar, ending its partnership with the DVB (Democratic Voice of Burma) Media Group, which had been carrying the US-backed broadcaster’s transmissions since the end of last year. 

DVB was apparently under government pressure for using the term “Rohingya” to describe the persecuted Muslim minority in Rakhine State. 

RFA president Libby Liu said complying with Myanmar’s order would be “inaccurate and disingenuous to both our product and our audience”.

“RFA will continue to refer to the Rohingya as the ‘Rohingya’ in our reports,” she said, condemning the government’s “Orwellian step”.

The government has not recognised the Rohingya as an ethnic minority since 1982. It denies them citizenship and access to basic services, such as education, freedom of movement and health care. 

The US-government-affiliated broadcaster made the decision to stop airing its Burmese broadcasts with DVB, which airs on state television, but said it would continue its coverage on radio and social media, including the dominant forum, Facebook.

The embattled Muslim community is commonly referred to as “Bengalis” by the Buddhist majority to imply they are illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. 

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has come under fire from the international community for refusing to use the word. 

Around 700,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine State for Bangladesh since a military crackdown started on August 25 last year.

DVB transmitted in exile during military rule but came back after political reforms in 2011 that abolished pre-publication censorship.

It was recently granted a new television licence by the authorities and started broadcasting on the state-controlled broadcasting agency Myanma Radio and Television (MRTV) channel in April.

Toe Zaw Latt, DVB bureau chief, said he had received a complaint from MRTV over the “controversial” word.

“If the government platform doesn’t want it, we have to obey,” he told the media.

Myanmar is the second Asean member in 10 months where RFA has lost access to broadcasters. Cambodia in August 2016 prohibited FM stations from carrying RFA broadcasts, one of several moves by Phnom Penh restricting the media in what was seen as a move to silence critics ahead of a general election in July.

RFA, which is loosely modelled on Radio Free Europe, also broadcasts to China, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam, with US government funding but run by a supposedly independent board.


Myanmar’s Buddhists largely refuse to use the word “Rohingya”. Picture credit: Asean Economist