A woman wearing a mask walks in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, Sept. 26, 2020. Photo: Xinhua
Those who follow Myanmar news cannot get around The Irrawaddy. The media, founded in 1993 by a group of Myanmar journalists exiled in Thailand, was found to frequently spread rumors about China in the midst of Myanmar's political turmoil, while failing to acknowledge that it has become a chess piece of Western countries.
There are unruly and rebellious elements among the unofficial media who love to contradict the Burmese authorities. The reports on their website often have a strong antiestablishment feature. When it comes to news related to China, The Irrawaddy is by no means friendly. Its reports are full of mystifying conspiracy theories with an obvious bias while selecting material, even to quote some rumors or unconfirmed news.
Take the report about the political turmoil in Myanmar on February 1 as an example. The tone of The Irrawaddy's report on this issue is highly consistent with media in the US and other Western countries. They have spared no effort to slander and accuse China. The Irrawaddy quoted Jane's International Defense Review, saying that Myanmar's Air Force appears to be using Chinese unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor antiregime protesters on the streets, which turned out to be a groundless rumor.
They also quoted an unconfirmed video and report from TVBS News in Taiwan claiming that Chinese troops gathered in Jiegao on the Chinese side of the China-Myanmar border to protect the Sino-Myanmar pipelines.
The Irrawaddy also repeatedly exaggerated the claim that China prevents the UN Security Council from imposing sanctions on the Myanmar military and selectively amplified the voices of netizens criticizing China, creating a feeling that China has no regard for the lives of the local people. It can be said that The Irrawaddy played a role in fueling the flames as the anti-China atmosphere intensified.
However, it is not difficult to understand the media's position on issues related to China by looking into the funding group behind The Irrawaddy. There are no details about the sources of funding on its official website. However, an anonymous observer of Myanmar issues sent a screenshot of the media's website in 2014 to the Global Times that shows a number of official and unofficial organizations from Western countries as donors of the media. There were some notorious names, like the Open Society Foundations, established by George Soros, which vigorously instigated riots and incited extreme violent activities. The National Endowment for Democracy, which has been sanctioned by China, and the United States Agency for International Development were also part of the list of sponsors.
Photo: Screenshot of The Irrawaddy
In addition to this screenshot, the Global Times also found evidence in public reports which prove that some of the above-mentioned agencies have provided financial assistance to The Irrawaddy. A report by the Financial Times on February 22, 2018, clearly said that "The Irrawaddy got funding from donors, including the National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros's Open Society Foundations."
However, the money from these donors behind the scenes does not seem to be that easy to earn. Although The Irrawaddy spared no effort to "embrace democracy" in its reports, criticizing the alleged military dictatorship in Myanmar and exaggerating the China threat theory, its alignment with Western values still sometimes fails to please these foreign donors.
The report of the Financial Times criticized The Irrawaddy directly. Titled "Hate speech, atrocities and fake news: the crisis of democracy in Myanmar," the report mainly centered on the issue of Rohingya refugees, claiming that anger began to spread among the international community regarding the Rohingya issue and called for the condemnation of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's civilian leader due to the issue.
However, The Irrawaddy defended Aung San Suu Kyi and said, in a defiant editorial, that many groups and institutions in the West are humiliating Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the country. The Financial Times was obviously very disappointed with this tone, saying that The Irrawaddy "have switched over and aligned themselves with the prevailing narrative; they used to be independent and strongly in favor of democracy."
Obviously, some Western countries do not really care about Myanmar's national interests but are only concerned about whether the actions of the Myanmar authorities are in alignment with their interests. If they do, then Myanmar will be described as a free and democratic country. If they do not, Western countries will criticize Myanmar relentlessly.
If public opinion manipulators exemplified by The Irrawaddy, which are funded by the governments and semiofficial organizations of Western countries, fail to meet the expectations of their sponsors on core issues, they will be blamed and abandoned.
However, it is a pity that The Irrawaddy apparently does not understand this truth until now, or maybe, it just does not want to understand it.