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AP defends Maungdaw coverage

By Kayleigh Long
January 23, 2014 

The Associated Press has moved to defend its coverage of the recent flare-up of violence in northern Rakhine State, following a release from the Ministry of Information that indicated AP had been issued a warning during a meeting between bureau staff and representatives of the Ministry's News and Periodicals Enterprise (NPE).

According to the MoI statement, the Managing Director of NPE met with AP correspondent Robin McDowell and two other AP staff members on January 20, cautioning them to avoid using "unconfirmed sources", and advising that they ensure their reports are not "misleading". 

The release also stated that the Associated Press Myanmar bureau has been warned it is responsible for any negative impact its stories have on the rule of law and stability of the state, in a release issued by the Ministry of Information on January 20.

AP Director of Media Relations Paula Colford said no warning was issued, but that reporters did have "a cordial discussion with the managing director of the News and Periodicals Office on many subjects, including the recent violence in Northern Rakhine."

The meeting was held in reference to the story AP ran on January 17, entitled "Myanmar mob kills more than a dozen Muslims". Government officials have so far maintained that the most recent outbreak of violence in Du Char Yar Tan village near Maungdaw has not resulted in any deaths.

"I wish to clarify and underscore AP's position with regard to our coverage of the recent violence in Northern Rakhine," said Paula Colford, Director of Media Relations at The Associated Press. 

"We believe AP's reporting on the situation has been careful and responsible. We stand by our coverage. To ensure an even clearer picture of northern Rakhine, we urge the government to allow access to the region". 

Calls for improved access to the tightly controlled north of Rakhine State have resounded in the wake of the recent flare-up.

Estimates of the death toll from the violence, which reportedly escalated following an extortion attempt by security forces on January 13, have varied. 

Restricted access to the Rohingya Muslim-majority Maungdaw has contributed to the difficulty journalists and civil society face in verifying information. 

Movement in the area is restricted, and reports have emerged that security has stepped up since the violence began. 

Speaking with The Myanmar Times, U Tun Khin of the Burmese Rohingya Organization of the UK (BROUK) implored the authorities to ease restrictions on local and international media in the region, as well as permit a thorough investigation of the matter.

The Associated Press is one of just a handful of media outlets to have had journalists on the ground in Maungdaw, after being granted access in late 2013 to report on brutal crackdowns by security forces.

– Additional reporting from Thet Hlaing

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