On February 1, hours after Myanmar’s military coup, team leaders from the Mizzima media group held an emergency meeting in Yangon.
Seasoned journalists at the outlet had started to work out an operational contingency plan days before the coup, as rumors of the impending recovery spread.
When the military takeover, it was clear that Min Aung Hlaing’s junta would revoke Mizzima’s license and block his television signal and his reporters were forced into hiding.
“Either you’re going to stay with Mizzima, fight together at the risk of your life for at least two years, or you won’t work for us,” editor-in-chief Soe Myint told staff.
Within a week, most had left their offices and homes and dispersed to hiding places around Yangon and other cities. More recently, some have settled in parts of the country controlled by armed ethnic groups who have long been fighting the army and supporting urban activists who resist the coup. When troops attacked the Mizzima headquarters on March 9, there was no one left.
The company has around 80 employees, freelancers and volunteers working underground, in ethnic areas, in India and Thailand. The group recently posted a clip of their reporters climbing on laptops in a tent in the jungle and reading and satellite broadcasting from an unknown location in Myanmar.
“This is our plan for the next two years,” Soe Myint told the Financial Times. “We can’t depend on just one domain, and we can’t abandon the channel for security reasons or for any reason.”
The flight of society to urban hideouts and rebel redoubts occurs in other news groups, as the country’s media are forced to report post-coup unrest in increasingly trying conditions.
The reorganization is also an indicator of the determination of Myanmar’s anti-coup activists to support a so-called spring revolution against the junta, as well as a growing tactical alliance between activists from the country’s Burmese ethnic center and the rebel groups in Kachin, Karen and other minority states.
Soe Myint confirmed that Mizzima operated in two ethnic states, which he declined to name. A court in the Indian state of Manipur this week shrine granted to two of the point of sale journalists.
The junta arrested dozens of journalists, including from the Associated Press and the BBC. Authorities last week also indicted a Japanese journalist for allegedly spreading false news.
More than 40 journalists have been arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The military regime has taken further steps to crush the independent press, announcing a ban on satellite TV receivers and ordering Myitkyina News Journal, a outlet in Kachin, to shut down.
Troops shot at people filming them and police regularly search the phones of journalists and activists during spot checks or arrests. Journalists recognize that their ability to work is increasingly compromised.
Swe Win, editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now, another site tasked with shutting down by the junta, said this week at a panel hosted by Vice, that “a huge percentage of original reporting has been wiped out since the coup. State”. He added that the country was on the verge of becoming “another hermit state” similar to North Korea.
“They are going to shut down all independent and private media in Burma,” Thar Lun Zaung Htet, editor-in-chief of Khit Thit Media, told FT. “We need help and support.”
Khit Thit Media was founded in 2018 and also faced legal threats from the military under the ousted government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who himself was internationally convicted for sue journalists and reviews.
Khit Thit’s website was decommissioned shortly after the coup by cyber attacks the company blamed on the military. Thar Lun Zaung Htet is in Thailand and eight of his journalists inside Myanmar are in hiding to avoid arrest.
For Burmese media groups, reporting clandestinely or from exile brings a sense of déjà vu, as some made their debut in Thailand or other neighboring countries when previous military regimes ruled the country from 1962 to 2011. Then, as now, they set up a cell like organizations in Myanmar and abroad, sharing information with colleagues only on a limited basis to evade authorities.
Soe Myint co-founded Mizzima in New Delhi in 1998, operating in India and Chiang Mai, Thailand in its early years. It was one of the first media groups to return to Myanmar in 2011, when the democratic transition began.
The group is determined to return to their home base after their operation in the jungle. Before dinner, Mizzima reporters recite aloud four pledges, including a vow to “remember the sacrifices” of the detained personnel, and this one: “We will see each other in Yangon”.
Additional reporting by Eli Meixler in Hong Kong and Than Win Htut in Thailand