From the Editor: Independent news sheds light on stories that major outlets ignore
Columns / October 14, 2017
The persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has grown increasingly violent since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until last month that North American news outlets started broadcasting the significance of the problem.
The death toll for Rohingya Muslims in the Asian country is not conclusive, but it’s likely to be near 3,000 since the most recent round of ethnic cleansing began last year, with many more people missing. Over 310,000 of the Rohingya people have fled to Bangladesh, with countless undocumented refugees lost at sea or in spontaneous settlements near borders with no access to services or assistance.
The United Nations human rights office made an official statement on the rape and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people in Myanmar during February of last year. The U.S. State Department responded with concern, but added that the report on the issue was not proven to be accurate and that they could not act on it for that reason. When Pope Francis condemned the Myanmar government for its actions a few days later, still, little happened in media coverage or aid.
Near the end of November, when the U.S. election was coming to a close and all of the major American outlets were busy with Trump and Clinton, an independent news source called Democracy Now! featured a story called “Rohingya Flee to Bangladesh Amid Violence in Myanmar”. The piece revealed that the national military had killed around 100 Rohingya citizens, with hundreds of others fleeing the country and over 400 Rohingya homes burned down. It featured two powerful quotes from refugees who had freshly arrived in Bangladesh.
“Military killed my husband, set fire to our house. As we did not get any help to save us, we fled our land and have come here,” Maryam Khatoon was quoted as saying.
Mohammed Hasim said, “As we could not tolerate their tortures, we as a group crossed the river by boat at night. Four o’clock, we entered Bangladesh.”
Google Trends shows a spike in the search for “Rohingya Muslims” at that time, but online interest swiftly fell back to near-zero until the end of August, peaking in early September. At this point, Democracy Now! was joined by big-name institutions like CNN and The Guardian in investigating the conflict. This is despite the fact that Reuters obtained a police document in March of this year which found that 423 Rohingya Muslims were detained since October 2016, with people as young as 10 and as old as 75 among the prisoners.
Finally, in August, the Kofi Annan Foundation published its official report on the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. The document was approved by the Myanmar government and confirmed that 10 per cent of all stateless people in the world came from Rakhine. It wasn’t until this point that media coverage and thus, public attention, began to become prominent.
Even in the wake of what some are calling a genocide, it’s still outlets like Al-Jazeera, Reuters, and The Independent that are regularly publishing updates on Myanmar’s human rights violations against the Rohingya. Although this is not necessarily a failure of most North American news, it does make one thing very clear: With Trump, Putin, and Kim Jong Un dominating our daily headlines, we cannot forget to be looking for independent news in harder-to-reach places.
Citizen journalism—often found on social media and online discussion pages—is a form of independent news. If you’re using Reddit world news as a source you are also responsible for double-checking that what you read is true, but public forums can be a great place to learn about underreported global issues. Compile a list of your favourite, reliable independent news sources and sign up for their newsletters to stay up to date. If you appreciate what you’re learning, consider donating to the publications that educate you.