Understanding Myanmar and the Rohingya | The Knife Media

 AP Images

AP Images

(The Knife Media) The recent news from Myanmar has been tragic. More than 1,000 people have reportedly died and over 420,000 people, 240,000 of them estimated to be children, have left their homes in Rakhine state since late August. This did not happen in a vacuum; the events of the past decades, even centuries, have brought Myanmar to this point. Yet many media reports don’t provide background information to help people understand what is happening now. We provide that context here.

The coverage we analyzed this week, for example, was on the aid package the U.S. announced this week for the Rohingya. Articles in AP, CNN, ABC News and HuffPost had less spin than much of the media coverage we usually analyze, and they performed well in logic. Yet their total integrity ratings ranged from 52 to 66 percent because they lacked contextual information and multiple points of view, which increased their slant scores. Here’s some information that was often missing:

  • Historical context about the Rohingya

  • Examples of discrimination against them

  • Precise information about their legal status

  • The religious makeup of Myanmar 

  • The government’s official position on the issue

  • Perspectives on why the violence is occurring

The coverage we looked at referred to some of these points, but often in vague terms. For instance, AP wrote that the Rohingya “have had a long and difficult history in the predominantly Buddhist nation,” and CNN said they are “considered to be among the world’s most persecuted people.” These statements are accurate, but not precise. How has their history been difficult and in what ways have they been persecuted? Answering such questions with precise data can help us understand the situation better, encouraging critical thinking on the issue.

At times, media reports also used subjective language, which can taint our perception of the facts. AP, for example, said the migration “has also emerged as a major blemish on the record of Myanmar’s civilian leader,” referring to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The phrase “major blemish” is not measurable or quantifiable. Other reports, such as this one by Vox, included contextual information, yet used dramatic words.

Written by Leah Mottishaw and Julia Berry López

Edited by Julia Berry López and Jens Erik Gould

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