Reuters On Trial In Myanmar: Journalism vs. Espionage

The criminal trial of two Reuters reporters in Myanmar has finally begun.

Two young men were arrested late last year immediately after receiving what they thought were secret documents that would prove the military’s complicity in the killing of 10 Rohingyas during last summer’s Hybrid War events in Rakhine State. The government is charging them under the Official Secrets Act that prohibits the handling of secret official documents that “might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy”, which is a vague and potentially all-encompassing description that international press freedom advocates fear is being abused to stifle investigative reporting in the emerging democracy.

The case has since generated global attention because of the Reuters affiliation of the two journalists involved and concerns that they were entrapped by the state, though the prevailing Mainstream Media narrative is leaving out the other side of the story. There’s sometimes a grey zone between journalism and intelligence work, and the government might have had reason to think that its two citizens were being used – whether knowingly or not – to obtain state secrets for their foreign employer in order to harm their country’s interests, which could make this more of a counter-intelligence operation than the entrapment that it’s being portrayed as.

Jailed Reuters journalists

It’ll be important to discover throughout the course of the trial who approached whom first, because if the journalists made the first move and solicited state secrets from undercover government agents and potentially with the intent of proving wrongdoing that could in turn trigger international sanctions, then the state’s case against them will be bolstered. The controversy, however, is that different states have different journalistic traditions, and the US’ liberal standards established during the Vietnam War era and made famous by the Pentagon Papers aren’t practiced in many other parts of the world.

The argument can be made that the so-called “higher good” of “finding out the truth” and “holding the government accountable” should be a global humanitarian norm irrespective if states employ double standards when applying it, but then again, obeying national security requirements is also important for everyone’s safety, or so it’s assumed. The case of the Reuters reporters in Myanmar is essentially a clash between these two principles, with the outcome largely depending on the intent of the accused, if it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt so as not to inadvertently harm the country’s soft power interests in the process.

The post presented is the partial transcript of the CONTEXT COUNTDOWN radio program on Sputnik News, aired on Friday July 20, 2018:

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

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    1. Australia has a shiny new set of espionage laws that bring it in to line with some of the more repressive states on the planet.

      “National security” is defined to include “the protection of the integrity of the country’s territory and borders from serious threats” and “the country’s political, military or economic relations with another country or other countries.”

      This covers everything from enforcing Australia’s “border protection” regime of militarily repelling or imprisoning refugees, to shielding the US military-intelligence alliance and supporting the profit interests and plundering global activities of the Australian capitalist class.

      The new main espionage offence carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, the most draconian penalty possible under Australian law. Espionage is redefined to include “dealing with information” that has a security classification or “concerns Australia’s national security.” There needs to be an intention to “prejudice national security,” and a result that information is “communicated or made available” to “a foreign principal or a person acting on behalf of a foreign principal.”

      However, even if the accused person did not intend to harm “national security,” but is found guilty of being “reckless” as to that risk, the result can be imprisonment for up to 25 years.

      A proposed Australian espionage law will put whistleblowers, journalists, and human rights activists at risk of prosecution…

      Provisions of the espionage bill infringe on basic rights, particularly the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the implied right to political communication, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other treaties to which Australia is a party, Human Rights Watch said. The proposed measures exceed what is necessary for or proportionate to the goal of protecting national security and democracy.

      The Australian government is currently trying an ASIO agent and his lawyer for revealing that the agency spied on Timor during negotiations over the maritime boundary rich in oil and gas. Senior ministers subsequently received positions with Woodside, the major developer.

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