The media today: Reuters publishes harrowing report that led to two reporters’ imprisonment

Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo remain in prison in Myanmar nearly two months after their arrest, but the story they were working on has been published, and it is an incredible piece of journalism. The investigation, co-written with Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski, pieces together what happened in the in the village of Inn Din in the days leading up to the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men by Buddhist villagers, Burmese soldiers, and paramilitary police.

Myanmar’s Rakhine state has been wracked by violence over the past six months, with more than half a million Rohingya citizens fleeing the country in what the US State Department calls ethnic cleansing. Myanmar’s government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has claimed that any killings were in response to terrorist actions by the Rohingya, and that Muslim citizens have burned their own villages. The Reuters report marks the first time that Buddhist villagers have confessed to burning homes and killing Muslims. It also “marks the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel themselves.”

The published investigation includes a harrowing photograph of the 10 victims, lined up on their knee with hands behind their heads, and included a brief description of each man’s life. “The dead men were fishermen, shopkeepers, the two teenage students, and an Islamic teacher,” the authors write. “At least two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers. The rest were shot by Myanmar troops.”

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On December 12 of last year Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are Burmese citizens, were arrested under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act and charged with possessing secret documents. Despite international outrage, they remain detained and have been denied bail. Their arrest only adds weight to their remarkable investigation.

“We believe this is a story of vast global importance and that we had a responsibility to publish it. It is a credit to our journalists that, with sources among both perpetrators and witnesses, they pieced together this groundbreaking report of a gruesome mass execution,” Stephen J. Adler, President and Editor in Chief of Reuters told CJR in a statement. (Adler is also a CJR board member.)

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Part of what makes this piece so powerful is the admission of guilt by those involved. The investigation closes with the words of a Buddhist elder in Inn Din, who tells Reuters he chose to share evidence of the killings because, “I want to be transparent on this case. I don’t want it to happen like that in future.”

Below, more on the investigation and the crisis in Myanmar.

  • Already having an impact: Following the publication of the report, the US State Department called for “an independent, credible investigation” into the killings. Asked about the investigation, a Burmese government spokesman said, “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.”
  • “Two book lovers dedicated to their craft”: A week after Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested, CJR co-published dual profiles of the journalists.
  • Erasing history: The New York Times’s Hannah Beech looks at how Myanmar’s government denied the very existence of its minority population by embracing a newly in vogue phrase. “There is no such thing as Rohingya,” U Kyaw San Hla, an officer in Rakhine’s state security ministry said in December. “It is fake news.”
  • Get caught up: Last month, the BBC published an overview of the refugee crisis and violence in Myanmar.
  • Reporting on the victims: The New York Times’s Jeffrey Gettleman collected accounts of atrocities from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. He called one of the conversations “the worst interview of my life.

 

Other notable stories

  • The New Republic’s Graham Vyse looks at the left’s war against The New York Times. “The Times has flourished under Trump,” Vyse writes. “Yet liberal criticism of the Times has also intensified, especially on social media.
  • Meanwhile, the Times continues to not be “failing.” The paper announced it added 99,000 digital news subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2017, and subscription revenue now accounts for 60 percent of its total revenues.
  • New York’s David Marchese published a bananas interview with music legend Quincy Jones this week, but he tells CJR’s Meg Dalton it was only “the PG-13 version of what the conversation was actually like.
  • The resignation of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter was widely covered across television news, except on Fox News. CNN’s Tom Kludt noted that the story wasn’t mentioned during the network’s primetime hours on Wednesday, nor on Fox & Friends yesterday morning.
  • Resistance darling Pod Save America is making the leap from audio to TV. The flagship offering from former Obama staffers’ media company is slated to air this fall in the run-up to the midterm elections.
  • For CJR, Glendora Meikle, deputy director of the International Reporting Project, explains why the non-profit is closing, and what the IRP has seen changing in the funding landscape for international reporting. And David Westphal concludes our series on journalism’s new patron with a look at the embrace of philanthropic support by newsrooms around the country. Looking at efforts like Report for America, Westphal writes that “philanthropy is becoming an ever-larger part of the revenue streams of newspapers and other for-profit news companies.”
  • The Washington Post is expanding its audio offerings with a new daily podcast hosted by reporter Mike Rosenwald. Retropod, debuting next Monday, will explore “surprising and forgotten moments in history,” according to a press release. Notez bien: The podcast will be less than five minutes in duration.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.