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Myanmar’s media has become another victim of the country’s civil war



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This Karenni soldier in Myanmar, and the video journalist filming him, were injured last October when a homemade rifle-propelled grenade exploded prematurely during a test-firing. Myanmar is mired in conflict between a military junta, which seized power in 2021, and ethnic militias like the Karenni.Siegfried Modola/The Globe and Mail

After the Myanmar military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government in February, 2021, journalists there braced for an inevitable crackdown. Many had lived through an earlier period of junta rule, when independent media were forced into exile and dozens of reporters jailed or even killed.

Sure enough, within weeks, the military began banning publications and arresting reporters, as it struggled to control a country exploding into a civil war that drags on 2½ years later.

Today, the junta only controls an estimated 50 per cent of Myanmar, mostly major population centres, while fighting ethnic militias and peoples’ defence forces allied with the parallel National Unity Government (NUG). In areas that the military holds, however, it has stepped up its crackdown on the media, searching for journalists feeding stories to exile outlets based in neighbouring Thailand.

“They’ve been picking them off one by one,” said Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “The regime has decimated independent reporting inside the country.”


While many journalists remained in Myanmar after the coup, determined to try and hold the military to account and cover the growing conflict, Mr. Crispin said there have been increasing numbers fleeing to Thailand as the situation has become more and more dangerous.

As well, foreign media have largely been forced out of Myanmar since the coup, except for tightly choreographed press tours, or dangerous visits to territory held by anti-junta forces. In late 2022, photojournalist Siegfried Modola crossed over from Thailand on assignment from The Globe and Mail, spending four days with the rebel Karenni Army. Last week, Mr. Modola won the prestigious Visa d’or News award for his work, which provided a rare glimpse into what life is like in war-racked parts of the country.

  • A Karenni soldier fires his weapon during fierce clashes against units of Myanmar’s military on April 17, 2023, in Kayah state, eastern Myanmar (Burma). This Karenni soldier was less thna 30 meters away from the enemy positions and the intense gun fight lasted for over three hours, until sun down.Siegfried Modola

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According to CPJ and Reporters sans frontières (RSF), more than 60 journalists are currently imprisoned in Myanmar. This figure is likely an underestimation as many outlets do not report the jailing of their staff as they attempt to negotiate their release. Since the coup, Myanmar has plummeted to the bottom of RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, sitting at 173 out of 180, alongside countries such as Eritrea and Syria.

This month, Myanmar Now photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges including “spreading misinformation,” after he was arrested while reporting on the impact of Cyclone Mocha. His sentence is the longest any journalist has received since the 2021 coup, and “yet another indication that freedom of the press has been completely quashed under the military junta’s rule,” said Swe Win, editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now.

Myanmar Now is one of several larger independent media outlets continuing to cover the country from exile, along with The Irrawaddy news group and the Democratic Voice of Burma. Many smaller publications that sprang up during Myanmar’s brief period of openness have struggled to survive however, bled of funds and staff, and facing increasing difficulties.

Most exiled journalists are based in Thailand, as they were during the previous period of junta rule. But while Bangkok was supportive in the past, Mr. Crispin expressed concern that the current Thai government has remained close to military leaders in the capital of Naypyidaw, and may be willing to rein in independent Myanmar media.

“My understanding is that the junta regime is pressuring the Thais not to allow this,” he said. “You have to wonder how viable this model is going to be,” of being based in Thailand.

Since seizing power, the Myanmar junta has not shied away from jailing foreigners. In May, 2021, U.S. citizen Danny Fenster, who worked for the banned publication Frontier Myanmar, was detained as he was about to fly home and later sentenced to 11 years in prison. Mr. Fenster was released in November that year after negotiations led by the late Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Four other foreign journalists have been detained and subsequently released since the coup: American Nathan Maung; Robert Bociaga of Poland; and Japanese reporters Toru Kubota and Yuki Kitazumi.

Mr. Kubota was freed in November as part of a mass prisoner amnesty for Myanmar’s national day, along with Australian academic Sean Turnell, a one-time adviser to deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and former British ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman.

The worsening situation has created “news black holes” in Myanmar, said Mr. Crispin. “It’s an intentional campaign to crush the media and scare the rest, and make sure there are very few cameras or witnesses to the crimes the regime is committing on a daily basis.”

Facing international sanctions, the junta has been seeking rehabilitation in recent months, moving Ms. Suu Kyi – who is said to be in poor health – to house arrest, and planning for elections designed to legitimize military rule. Voting was due to take place in August but was postponed to February next year after the government extended a state of emergency.

In a posted statement, Canada’s embassy to Myanmar said it was “deeply concerned” by this, adding the extension only prolongs “the regime’s illegitimate rule over Myanmar.” It said Ottawa “continues to unequivocally condemn the coup against the democratically elected government and supports the people and their democratic aspirations in the face of brutality and egregious international human rights and humanitarian law violations.”



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Jailed Italian Mafia boss Messina Denaro dies



Mug shot of Matteo Messina Denaro

A handout photo shows Matteo Messina Denaro Italy’s most wanted mafia boss after he was arrested in Palermo, Italy, January 16, 2023. Carabinieri/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

ROME, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Italian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested in January after spending 30 years on the run, has died, AFP reported on Monday, citing Italian media.

Messina Denaro, 61, was suffering from cancer at the time of his arrest. As his condition worsened in recent weeks he was transferred to a hospital from the maximum-security prison in central Italy where he was initially held.

He was convicted of numerous crimes, including for his role in planning the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – crimes that shocked Italy and sparked a crackdown on the Sicilian mob.

He was also held responsible for bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993 that killed 10 people, as well as helping organise the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, 12, to try to dissuade the boy’s father from giving evidence against the mafia. The boy was held for two years, then murdered.


Dubbed by the Italian press as “the last Godfather”, Messina Denaro is not believed to have given any information to the police after he was seized outside a private health clinic in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, on Jan. 16.

According to medical records leaked to the Italian media, he underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2020 and 2022 under a false name. A doctor at the Palermo clinic told La Repubblica newspaper that Messina Denaro’s health had worsened significantly in the months leading up to his capture.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer and Kanjyik Ghosh; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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Ukraine to receive US long-range ATACMS missiles, US media report



United States President Joe Biden has informed his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that Washington will provide Kyiv with ATACMS long-range missiles, US broadcaster NBC News has reported.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked the Biden administration for the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to help hit supply lines, airbases and rail networks deep behind Russia’s front lines in occupied regions of Ukraine.

But the White House has not announced a decision to provide Ukraine with the ATACMS system and the missiles were not publicly discussed when Zelenskyy visited Washington, DC on Thursday for talks with Biden, even as the US announced a new $325m military aid package for Kyiv.

The White House and the Pentagon declined to comment on the NBC report on Friday.


The Pentagon also declined to say whether any promise of ATACMS was given to Zelenskyy during his meetings on Thursday at the Department of Defense, saying: “In regards to ATACMS, we have nothing to announce.”

A date for delivery of the ATACMS was not revealed, according to NBC.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned earlier this month that the supply of longer-range missiles to Kyiv would cross a “red line” and the US would be viewed as “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine if it did provide such weapons.

Zelenskyy did not answer directly when asked about the NBC reports on ATACMS, but he noted that the US was the biggest single supplier of weaponry to Ukraine.

“We are discussing all the different types of weapons – long-range weapons and artillery, artillery shells with the calibre of 155mm, then air defence systems,” Zelenskyy said, speaking through an interpreter.

“We have a comprehensive discussion and [we] work with the United States at different levels,” he said.

The Washington Post also reported that the US plans to provide Ukraine with a version of the ATACMS that will be armed with cluster bomblets rather than a single warhead, citing several unnamed sources familiar with the deliberations, and that can fly up to 306km (190 miles).

ATACMS is designed for “deep attack of enemy second-echelon forces”, a US Army website states, and could be used to attack command and control centres, air defences and logistics sites well behind the front line.



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Who is Lachlan Murdoch, heir apparent of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire?



For Lachlan Murdoch, this moment has been a long time coming. Assuming, of course, that his moment has actually arrived.

On Thursday, his father Rupert Murdoch announced that in November he’ll step down as the head of his two media companies: News Corp. and Fox Corp. Lachlan will become the chair of News Corp. while remaining chief executive and chair at Fox Corp., the parent of Fox News Channel.

The changes make Rupert’s eldest son the undisputed leader of the media empire his father built over decades. There’s no real sign that his siblings and former rivals James and Elisabeth contested him for the top job; James in particular has distanced himself from the company and his father’s politics for several years. But Rupert, now 92, has long had a penchant for building up his oldest children only to later undermine them — and sometimes to set them against one another — often flipping the table without notice.

Given Rupert Murdoch’s advanced age, this might be his last power move. But there’s a reason the HBO drama “Succession” was often interpreted as a thinly disguised and dark satire of his family business. In Murdoch World, as in the fictional world of the Roy family, seemingly sure things can go sideways in an instant, particularly when unexpected opportunities arise.


Lachlan Murdoch has lived that first hand. Born in London, he grew up in New York City and attended Princeton, where he focused not on business, but philosophy. His bachelor’s thesis, titled “A Study of Freedom and Morality in Kant’s Practical Philosophy,” addressed those weighty topics alongside passages of Hindu scripture. The thesis closed on a line from the Bhagavad Gita referencing “the infinite spirit” and “the pure calm of infinity,” according to a 2019 article in The Intercept.

Béatrice Longuenesse, Lachlan’s thesis advisor at Princeton, confirmed the accuracy of that report via email.

After graduation, though, Lachlan plunged headlong into his father’s business, moving to Australia to work for the Murdoch newspapers that were once the core of News Corp.’s business. Many assumed he was being groomed for higher things at News Corp., and they were not wrong. Within just a few years, Lachlan was deputy CEO of the News Corp. holding company for its Australian properties; shortly thereafter, he took an executive position at News Corp. itself and was soon running the company’s television stations and print publishing operations.

Lachlan’s ascent came to an abrupt halt in 2005, when he resigned from News Corp. with no public explanation. According to Paddy Manning, an Australian journalist who last year published a biography of Lachlan Murdoch, the core problem involved two relatively minor issues on which Lachlan disagreed with Roger Ailes, who then ran Fox News.

“The real point was that Lachlan felt Rupert had backed his executives over his son,” Manning said in an interview. “So Lachlan felt, ‘If I’m not going to be supported, then what’s the point?’” Manning did not have direct access to Lachlan for his book “The Successor,” but said he spoke in depth with the people closest to his subject.

Lachlan returned to Australia, where he has often described feeling most at home, and founded an investment group that purchased a string of local radio stations among other properties.

While he was away, News Corp. entered choppy waters. The U.K. phone-hacking scandal, in which tabloid journalists at the News of the World and other Murdoch-owned publications had found a way to listen to voicemails of the British royal family, journalistic competitors and even a missing schoolgirl, had seriously damaged the company. The fracas led to resignations of several News Corp. officials, criminal charges against some, and the closure of News of the World as its finances went south.

Manning said that the damage the scandal inflicted on News Corp. — and on both Lachlan Murdoch’s father and his brother James, chief executive of News’ British newspaper group at the time — helped pull Lachlan back to the company.

“He was watching the family tear itself apart over the phone-hacking scandal,” Manning said. Lachlan was “instrumental in trying to circle the wagons and turn the guns outwards, and stop Rupert from sacking James.”

While it took more convincing, Lachlan eventually returned to the company in 2014 as co-chairman of News Corp. alongside James.

Not long afterward, Ailes was forced out of his job at Fox News following numerous credible allegations of sexual harassment.

Lachlan Murdoch has drawn criticism from media watchdogs for what many called Fox News’ increasingly conspiratorial and misinformation-promoting broadcasts. The network hit a nadir following the 2020 election when voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for $1.6 billion, alleging that Fox knowingly promoted false conspiracy theories about the security of its voting machines.

Fox settled that suit for $787.5 million in March of this year. A similar lawsuit filed by Smartmatic, another voting-machine maker, may go to trial in 2025, Fox has suggested.

In certain respects, though, Lachlan Murdoch’s behavior suggests some ambivalence about his role at News Corp. In 2021 he moved back to Sidney and has been mixing commuting and remote work from Australia ever since. “I think there’s a legitimate question about whether you can continue to do that and for how long” while running companies based in the U.S., Manning said.


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