Ever since Myanmar’s military seized control in a coup, the team at Mizzima News has been focused on how to survive while producing quality journalism.
The junta has revoked licenses for more than a dozen media outlets since February 2021, including Mizzima’s, and arrested more than 170 journalists. Adding to the dangerous environment, media are covering the military’s fight with an armed resistance movement.
Against this backdrop, Mizzima is still publishing content in both Burmese and English.
Officially, journalists need to be registered with the junta to operate. But to do that, reporters must provide personal details — a step that many are wary of for fear of arrest.
Soe Myint, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Mizzima, says he has no intention of having his team apply for accreditation while the junta remains in power.
“Under the military junta we never try. They are not going to allow the independent reporting in Myanmar,” he told VOA in a phone call from a border region.
Han Htoo Zaw, a video journalist at Mizzima, added that in Myanmar, “journalists are no longer allowed to report openly.”
“If they see us, they will arrest us and kill us,” he told VOA.
Han Htoo Zaw joined Mizzima in 2020, and currently covers the conflict between anti-junta forces and the military, all while trying to stay under the radar.
“I can’t get news openly in the city like before. I have to get news from places where there is a fight with [the] junta and [the People’s Defense Forces or PDFs],” he said.
The journalist said that the army has opened a “case file” against him after publicly announcing a warrant for his arrest on local TV and radio. He is accused of fake news and incitement toward the military.
Because of the warrant, he sticks to news from “places controlled by ethnic armed forces and PDFs.”
But covering conflict brings an extra level of risk.
“For me, life-threatening security is to know the sound of the gun and to get into the trenches quickly, because anything can happen on the front line. The army is always under airstrikes, so we have to be very careful,” he said.
The Mizzima team’s experiences and caution are reflected in the wider media scene in Myanmar.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, at least 176 journalists have been arrested and four killed since February 2021. And as of May 2023, at least 50 were still in custody.
Myanmar’s military spokesperson has previously dismissed claims that media are targeting, saying “there is no reason to arrest, charge or jail [journalists] if they do their media job.
The spokesperson also previously dismissed concerns over the media environment, saying that journalists and opposition forces on social media are spreading “fake news.”
To keep reporting, Mizzima journalists work in a range of challenging environments: reporting underground in military-controlled cities like Yangon and Mandalay, to the front-line areas occupied by rebel forces.
“The last two years, immediately after, was time for all of us to survive and continue as an independent media,” Soe Myint said.
“Anyone who is identified as Mizzima will be immediately arrested,” he added. “We operate under these threats every day.”
Since the coup seven journalists from Mizzima were arrested, some of whom were tortured while in jail, he said. Six were later released.
For now, Mizzima is focusing on trying to keep the news flowing.
“Apart from trying to survive, we also [are] working very hard to do quality journalism,” he said.
As well as covering the conflict, the outlet covers domestic issues, business news, international coverage, and reporting on women’s issues.
But operations and financial sustainability are a struggle. Mizzima, like other media in Myanmar, relies on donations.
“Financial support has reduced tremendously, particularly this year. Many donors have reduced their funding to independent media or Myanmar,” he said.
Soe Myint must also oversee a team across a wider geographic area.
“Our main work is still inside the country and out of 135 [employees] we have, half of them are inside the country. And then another half of our colleagues are in different parts,” he said. “It is a big challenge in terms of operation.”
Kaung Kin Ko, an editor with Mizzima, says many Burmese journalists had to flee to Thailand.
“Working legally as Burmese journalists in Thailand poses significant difficulties. However, compared to our own country, Burma [the former name of Myanmar], Thailand offers a relatively safer environment. Therefore, we are grateful for the safety Thailand provides,” he told VOA.
But with less of a ground presence, the editor admits they’ve had to change how they verify information.
“We rely on the internet to verify sources and information. We utilize multiple sources and carefully analyze the information we find. Additionally, we depend on local residents in Myanmar for sourcing. Naturally, there are instances where obtaining accurate information becomes difficult,” he said.
“The war has created an atmosphere of fear and distrust among the population. People are afraid to speak openly, fearing retaliation from the authorities,” he said. “The volatile nature of the conflict has also led to the spread of misinformation and propaganda, further complicating the task of reporting the truth.”
With the stakes high, he and his colleagues are committed to keep reporting even under trying circumstances.