We went to Myanmar with CNN, here’s why we did it

Controversy erupted last week after CNN embarked upon a military-guided press tour in Myanmar. Watching this unfold was especially powerful for us. You see, we knew something that no one else did at this point – we also had a reporter on this trip

We went to Myanmar with CNN, here’s why we did it

Though I’d wager few reading this would have missed it, this week’s most controversial story in Southeast Asia has been, without a doubt, CNN’s much-maligned, military-guided tour in Myanmar.

As images emerged last week of a small video team of three from the US network, including chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward, flanked by military minders touring the streets of Yangon, it wasn’t long before corners of social media erupted into a chorus of condemnation. 

The abduction of eight civilians who spoke with the crew (whom CNN says have now been released) only further provoked the ire of those who saw the trip as ethically suspect and inappropriate in the context of the military regime’s murderous crackdown on dissent since the February 1 coup. 

Seeing this heated debate was especially poignant for us over here at the Globe. You see, we knew something that no one else did at this point – we also had a reporter on this trip. 

Seen in the background of image after image emerging on Twitter was Globe reporter Allegra Mendelson, invited on the trip after interviewing controversial Myanmar military PR man Ari Ben-Menashe (we’ll be publishing a piece on Friday explaining how this unfolded). We kept our name out of the conversation for Allegra’s safety while in Myanmar, but as the (tacit) condemnation of our initiative poured in, we found ourselves revisiting internal conversations on the ethics of what we had embarked upon. The criticisms being levelled at CNN – endangering local activists and silencing the reporting of Burmese journalists – were, by association, also applicable to us at the Globe.

Today, we’ve published our first piece from the trip in collaboration with Al Jazeera – a news-feature we arranged with them before embarking to Yangon. Later in the week, Allegra will also be delving more into the ethical questions this trip has raised – as well as outlining the bizarre story of how we ended up being invited – as we are in the process of producing a first-person narrative in collaboration with the Washington Post. The trip was also made possible due to a generous grant provided by the Pulitzer Center.

Honestly, the criticisms now circulating are ones we weighed carefully before embarking on the trip. We moved ahead with firm ideas about how we could positively contribute; what we were offered was access to Tatmadaw figures and insight into the military machine (no payment was made on either side), and with this access we aimed to shine a critical light on their actions, bolstering the conversation around what is happening in Myanmar. There is some truly incredible reporting happening across Myanmar right now, and while we didn’t aim to replicate the value only a local perspective can give, we did see an unprecedented opportunity to gather a valuable and fresh perspective that could spark further international discussion.

This kind of reporting is something Allegra, and the Globe more widely, has been committed to producing since the coup through in-depth pieces on the CRPH and conversations with its representative, Dr Sa Sa, specifically. 

Regardless, as we consider the impact of our trip, we thought it was our responsibility to take ownership over recent events by directly addressing them. In this spirit, we’ll also be hosting a webinar on Friday, open to the general public, for those who wish to ask questions and engage in constructive debate with us about the trip and its value and ethics. We’ll provide more details on how to join that on our social media in the coming days.

Until then, we hope you take some value from today’s piece (read here), and don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly should you wish to provide any thoughts, feedback or criticism. My email is: a.mccready@globemediaasia.com

Alastair McCready is Southeast Asia Globe’s Editor in Chief.

UPDATE: Footage of the webinar, along with a wrap up of the experience, can be found here.

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