Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has turned to state-run media inherited from the former junta in an overhaul of her PR approach, after warnings her agenda is being swamped by crises and amid fears among rights groups of eroding free speech.
The Nobel laureate came to power last year amid a transition from full military rule that has propelled her from political prisoner to the elected leader.
But where she once courted the foreign press in her campaign against the generals and their state-run mouthpieces, she now keeps independent media at arm’s length. Western diplomats and her own advisers have warned she has failed to control her administration’s narrative.
In a talk with villagers in central Myanmar on Monday, transmitted on state broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), she exhorted the public to follow official statements on the government’s activities.
“I would like to say: read the newspapers and listen to the news on MRTV released by the government,” she said, referring specifically to official reports about the government’s response to the crisis in western Rakhine state.
Rohingya Muslim militants killed nine police in attacks there in October, sparking a brutal military response that the United Nations says may have included crimes against humanity.
Official outlets, including a social media account run out of Suu Kyi’s office, published running denials during the conflict, quickly dismissing reports in independent media of alleged government atrocities as “fake news” and “fake rape”.
Suu Kyi has resisted calls, including from the United States, to allow UN human rights investigators into the country.
“You will always hear (on official broadcasts) what the government is doing for peace and stability in Rakhine,” she said on Monday.
“We take a lot of care as the whole world is interested in this.”
Government newspapers that used to denounce then opposition leader Suu Kyi now run her picture on their front pages nearly every day.
‘Avoiding the media’
Foreign media were invited to tour the conflict area in Rakhine last month, but were closely watched by security forces and only allocated time to visit one village where locals alleged rights abuses.
On Monday, members of Suu Kyi’s security detail – dressed in dark suits and sunglasses – physically prevented reporters from asking questions.
Press freedom advocates fear that gains in freedom of speech in Myanmar are being eroded, with at least five media workers detained in recent weeks.