The Rohingya Schema: How the Rohingya was reported by the New York Times


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 The Rohingya Schema: How the Rohingya was reported by the New York Times
By Dr. WENDELL GLENN P. CAGAPE, PhD in Southeast Asian Studies, Centro Escolar University

Conference Paper : Wenzao International Conference on Southeast Asian Studies, At: Kaohsiung, Taiwan, December 2019

When the Rohingya Crisis erupted after the August 25, 2017 incident in the northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, reporters and writers scamper to get the news out to the world, and one of these, are writers and field reporters of the prestigious New York Times. Founded in 1851, the New York Times is an American newspaper that is based in New York City that has worldwide readership and influence, including in Southeast Asia.

Over its years as a newspaper, New York Times won 122 Pulitzer Prizes, a feat never ever achieved singularly by any other newspaper in America. Founded by Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones, New York Times is a broadsheet that releases daily. Its daily circulation usually bats around 571,500 while its Sunday circulation bats around 1,087,500 and 2,500,000 digital circulation. It is ranked 18th in the world by circulation.

In our effort to better understand the representation (schema) that the Rohingya obtain from the media, particularly from the New York Times, the study pursues it under the scalpel of Corpus-assisted Discourse Analysis. The study locates frequency of words in the corpora and obtaining it in the News On the Web (NOW), a corpus created by Mark Davies of Brigham Young University. Further, it analyzes the data sets for co-occurrence of words (collocation) and word and textual positions (colligation).

The world was awoken by the fast unravelling of a humanitarian crisis in Southeast Asia. The precursor was the August 25, 2017 incident when Rohingya insurgent group in Myanmar mounted coordinated attacks on 30 government targets, including police outposts and an army base, in the northern part of Myanmar‟s Rakhine State. Equipped with small arms, machetes, and hand-held explosives, the insurgents killed 10 police officers, a soldier, and an immigration official. Seventy-seven insurgents were killed, with one insurgent captured in the attacks (CSIS 2017). Many Rohingya fled northern Rakhine State as the Tatmadaw, the Border Guards and the Police took clearing operations that saw burning of houses and mosques, rape and torture, beatings, and killing of Rohingya on-sight.

The Rohingya Schema — This paper delves on the representation Rohingya, as a people and a community of ethnic minority in Myanmar, to the world. There are many newspaper publications that talks and discussed, op-ed columns written on the “Rohingya”, and to a finer extent, this paper attempts to understand how they are represented to the worldwide audience by the New York Times.

The Rohingya came into worldwide attention again, in 2017 after government forces in Myanmar retaliated for the August 25 attacks. But the struggles they all faced are present prior to 2017, and it escalated with impunity and the perpetrators are never prosecuted. Parnini (2013) contextualized that the ““Rohingya” is considered a reconstruction of the modern nation-state system. The plight of the Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh and elsewhere in neighboring countries since the late 1970s complicated their status as well as their statelessness.” It was exacerbated when in 1982, Myanmar passed the Citizenship Law which officially barred the „Rohingya‟ from national recognition and stripping them of their right to a name and a nationality being peoples of northern Rakhine State. It has been going-on since 1982 that the Rohingya are being relegated to an „outsider‟ as a comfortable reference and justification to them as „illegal migrants‟ from Bangladesh. But historically, the Rohingya, as a people and a community, has claims to the land of the northern Rakhine State to as early as the 8th century. Anawwrahta (1044-1077) was the first king of Burma and the Burmese history rightly begins with him. During the times of Caliph Haroon Ul Rasheed (5th Caliph of Abbasid Caliphate), traders (both Arab and Turk) used to come here. The Arab traders had come to Burma in 9th century and few historians assert that they came in 8th century (Goraya and Mazhar 2016).

In spite these historical claims to the northern Rakhine State, the Rohingya has been subjected to atrocities and expulsion in waves of attacks against their person, property, religion and their identity. The Amnesty International started, like many other non-government organizations and the United Nations agencies, documenting these atrocities since 1989. In one of its report, Amnesty International (2014) claimed to have documented “human rights violations by the military against civilian members of ethnic minorities, most commonly in the context of counter-insurgency operations. These include forced labour; forcible relocation with no compensation; torture and ill-treatment; and extrajudicial executions. The organization published reports on violations against the Rohingyas in 1992 shortly after their second mass exodus to Bangladesh; and again in 1997, as refugee flows to Bangladesh continued”.

Because most of the atrocities against the Rohingya is due in part to its denied citizenship status since 1982, the first manifested exclusion of the Rohingya from the very fabric of Burma‟s society was enshrined in the 1948 Constitution after Britain granted Burma its independence. “According to Article 11 of the Constitution of the Union of Burma, those whose ancestors belonged to any of the indigenous races of Burma can be considered as citizens. Although the first Citizenship Act (1948) did not name Rohingyas among the indigenous races, under the provisions of Article 3 citizenship can be given to other racial group that has settled in any of the territories included within Myanmar as permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 – the Act intentionally excluded the Muslims living in Rakhine state from access to citizenship” (Kovacs-Zsanko 2017).

Documenting these atrocities against the Rohingya is daunting and the reports coming out are discouraging that the need for media representation through the newspapers or cable TV coverage is desired in order to be understood. However, international media are barred from covering and reporting from northern Rakhine State, narratives are culled out from reports of NGOs and UN Agencies. There are field reporters who encamped in nearby Bangladesh and cover the Rohingya crisis from there.

The Human Rights Watch, in (2012), even released its report on the atrocities against the Rohingya. Along this report is a citation of the stark difference between how the Rohingya crisis is reported in Myanmar and in the International Community. “Various state-controlled and domestic media outlets in Burma claimed the violence in Arakan State was perpetrated solely by Rohingya against Arakan, while international media focused on violence against the Rohingya. The independent Eleven Media Group said in a statement: ”Foreign media are now presenting bias [sic] reports on the clashes between [Arakan] people and Bengali Rohingyas to destroy the image of [Burma] and its people…. Only Rohingyas killed [Arakan] people and burned down their houses”.

In this schema, this paper intends to understand how the New York Times, as an active member of the international media is reporting “Rohingya” and situating its analysis from 25 August 2017-January 31, 2018. This paper will then collate articles and op-ed columns published in the New York Times and analyze them using Corpus-Assisted Discourse Analysis. In the course of this paper, however, there are footnotes to previous atrocities reported by other newspapers other than the New York Times, to provide the springboard of its discussion. It will also make use of reports of non-government agencies, the United Nations agencies, and others, as references. As part of the methodology of the study, it uses, aside from the COCA, the Brigham Young University News on the Web (NOW), still designed by Mark Davies. The study also references the doctoral dissertation of Jasper Roe of the Uppsala Universiteit who wrote as his Doctoral Dissertation, “A Corpus-Assisted Discourse Analysis of the representation of the Rohingya minority group in Myanmar”. ##


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