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A briefing about the current situation in Myanmar for our clients, partners, and friends

A briefing about the current situation in Myanmar for our clients, partners, and friends

Our latest report: Myanmar Communication Landscape 2021 is available for FREE download. The playbook is an in-depth audit of the shifts in consumer behaviors and changes in Myanmar’s digital and media landscapes. It also includes suggestions on how brands can navigate and adapt to the situation.

13.08.2021 / Briefing #28

We at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 
 
A report by the National Unity Government (NUG), the country’s parallel government, stated that more than 740 junta soldiers were killed and almost 370 wounded during shoutouts with ethnic armed forces and civilian resistance fighters in July. Netizens celebrated the deaths of junta soldiers and mourned the civilians caught in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, the movement is also finding ways to break the spirit of the military through non-violent means. The Chin Defense Force in Mindat offered a cash reward of 5 million Kyat (300USD) for any junta soldier who defects and brings their weapons and ammunition. The offer also included a chance to take refuge abroad. At least ten soldiers fled from the army this past weekend, one of whom was recaptured by the military junta.

Over the course of seven months, the military junta has killed 965 civilians in raids and violent crackdowns on street protests, and 5,550 are still detained. Fights such as these and raids in cities are on-going across the country, despite the recent outbreak of COVID-19. This week there was a tragic incident in which five youths jumped to their deaths from the 8th floor of an apartment which was being raided by soldiers. In what has become a custom, many artists and poets took to social media to share works dedicated.

Protests & the Movement

This past weekend was the 33rd anniversary of the August 8, 1988 nationwide uprising against the military, which was led predominately by students, many of whom became today’s democratic leaders and leaders of the Spring Revolution. To commemorate this day, massive crowds gathered in the streets across the country on Sunday. A common sign at the protests read “the blood debt of 88 will be repaid in 21”.
 
In addition, more than 30 political detainees at Oh-bo prison commemorated the day by singing a popular protest song called Blood Oath (Thway Thitsar). They are now being interrogated by prison authorities for the disruption.

In Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay, the LGBTQI community staged a weekend street protest against the military junta. The following week, monks from the Mandalay Sangha Union also took the streets against the regime. Residents of Mandalay have consistently organized large-scale protests despite the violent crackdowns, COVID-19 outbreak, and threats against them.
 
An anti-junta Facebook profile frame went viral this week. The frame, which reads “Accept NUG, Reject Military”, has become popular among influencers and ordinary netizens. The junta has issued an order to all townships in Yangon to document accounts using the frame, as they say the campaign violates the law by supporting a “terrorist organization”.

Brands & the Coup

Kirin has announced that it will not exit Myanmar. This comes six months after the Japanese beer company said that it would terminate its 55% stake in Myanmar Brewery, its joint venture with the military-owned conglomerate Myanmar Economic Holdings, following massive backlash and boycotts in the wake of the coup. Prior to the recent news, Kirin had announced an impairment loss of 21.4 billion yen (193.79 million dollars) for its second quarter in connection with its Myanmar business.

KBZ bank faces backlash over freezing accounts of individuals and organizations that have been suspected of providing support to internally displaced persons, Civil Disobedience Movement staff, and People’s Defense Forces, reportedly in response to a directive by the military junta. The account freezes include e-wallets such as KBZ Pay and Wave Money. Netizens are calling for a boycott of KBZ bank and to give a rating of one star to its app on the app store. KBZ has yet to respond.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support your employees: As the COVID-19 situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines for COVID-19 prevention and support teams with supplies if they are sick.

Support local independent media: Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if you are able.

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06.08.2021 / Briefing #27

We at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. This week’s report includes updates for the past two weeks. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 
 
We have entered the 7th month since the coup began on Feb 1st, and the country has gone through drastic changes. In the six months since the coup, more than 7,000 people have been arrested and about 1,000 people have been killed in violent crackdowns. It has been half a year of tragedy, violence, and trauma – but also of unwavering resilience, courage, and solidarity. The Spring Revolution remains steadfast and strong, with protests and activism continuing throughout the country. This week, residents of Kale, Sagaing protested despite heavy rain and distributed cloth masks to protect against COVID-19 to each other and bystanders.

Early this week, the junta announced that it is forming a caretaker government and extending the state of emergency for another two years before it will hold an election, which is now set for August 2023. In addition, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing appointed himself as the Prime Minister of the caretaker government and established his right-hand man Soe Win as the Deputy Prime Minister. Netizens were not shocked by this announcement, as trust in the military’s promises was low considering the previous coup lasted 22 years and the coup before it lasted 26 years. Social media was awash with pledges that this would be Myanmar’s last military coup.

The junta is struggling to consolidate power and gain effective control over the people and the country. In a further sign of this, they announced in state-owned newspapers that they would be dropping charges against staff, students, and protestors involved in the Spring Revolution. However, this pardon excludes those who deliberately attacked members of the military council or provided financial support to the Civil Disobedience Movement. At the same time, coup leaders signed an amendment to the Counterterrorism Law this week introducing harsher penalties for supporting anti-regime activities.
 
The junta-controlled Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) has announced that private banks are now required to seek approval from CBM 30 days prior to hiring foreigners. CBM has also limited the number of foreign appointees to 25 for large banks, 15 for medium-sized banks, and eight for small banks.

Connectivity & the Coup

Following attempts to gain total control and crush resistance, pro-military Facebook accounts are seeking to break the unity and trust between ethnic armed groups and civilian resistance using disinformation. The posts blame ethnic armed groups for the deaths of civilians and trainees in the People’s Defense Forces (PDF). They provide no evidence to support the allegations, and both PDF and ethnic armed groups have denied the claims. The posts all began circulating social media around the same time, suggesting a coordinated campaign.
 
Brands & the Coup

In a new report, the World Bank has projected that Myanmar’s economy is expected to contract 18% by the end of the fiscal year. This is nearly double its initial projections in March of a 10% GDP contraction, a reflection of the prolonged impact of the coup and the recent COVID-19 outbreak.
 
In the past six months, up to 11 major international companies have decided to leave Myanmar set up to 11 major international companies have decided to leave Myanmar or suspend operations indefinitely. These are Kirin Holdings, AEON, Toyota, Lim Kaling (RMHS’s shareholder), Sembcorp, Amata, Petronas, Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotel, Woodside, Electricite de France, and Telenor.
 
Additionally, the Australian company Myanmar Metals is reportedly planning on selling its 51% stake in a silver, lead, and zinc project in Bawdwin, citing difficulties in securing financing for the $300 million project since the coup.

However, some brands have reassured netizens of their commitment to stay. One of these is Kubota, a Japanese machinery maker, which has announced that they have no plans to leave despite the turmoil.

The boycott of military-owned brands can count a win as the military’s share of the beer market, formerly around 70 percent, now stands at less than 30 percent. Netizens were overjoyed by this news and encouraged each other to continue boycotting military-owned products.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support your employees: As the COVID-19 situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines for COVID-19 prevention and support teams with supplies if they are sick.

Support local independent media: Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if you are able.

16.07.2021 / Briefing #24

We at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. This week’s report includes updates for the past two weeks. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

In the past two weeks, COVID-19 cases have surged in Myanmar in most severe wave of infections so far. Social media is awash with cries for help, as people across the country struggle to secure basic supplies such as oxygen tanks, medicine, and medical devices. People have begun queuing at oxygen plants at 4AM to refill their cylinders. This week also brought forth a wave of social media posts where family members announced the deaths of loved ones, citing challenges to get oxygen supplies in time. Queues have started to form at crematoriums as well, with family members waiting for their loved ones to be cremated. The crematorium in Yangon reported they cremated close to 300 bodies on July 14.

On the same day, state-run media MRTV reported a record high of new COVID-19 cases of 7,098 and 145 deaths. However, the actual number of infected and deaths is believed to be much higher, as a lack of faith in the junta to ease the outbreak has led many to self-test and treat symptoms at home without notifying the military government. Recently, it was reported that the military opened fire into a crowd of people waiting to refill their oxygen cylinders in Yangon.

Additionally, the National Unity Government (NUG) issued a statement of deep sadness and a call for international help, as the junta has also been shutting down private oxygen plants, controlling medical supplies, and failing to provide proper health facilities.

In the absence of support from the junta, people are coming together to help each other, with young people volunteering to refill cylinders and buy medicine, food, and supplies, and CDM doctors visiting homes to treat patients.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has announced that Japan will extend $5.8 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Myanmar, where supplies of food and daily necessities are scarce following the coup on Feb 1st. The aid will be delivered through U.N agencies such as the World Food Program and the United Nations Children’s Fund and will cover supplies for some 136,000 people affected in the southeastern part of Myanmar near the Thai border. Japan has so far contributed about $20 million in humanitarian assistance to Myanmar since the coup.

Young people in the pro-democracy movement are keeping the momentum and spirit alive by protesting in the streets. Netizens applaud their determination and see them as providing hope while the country deals with a new wave. Most recently, hundreds of youths took to the streets across Myanmar to mark the anniversary of the 1962 protests against the country’s first coup, vowing to overcome the current junta. University students in Mandalay held flower wreaths, flags were at half-staff in Dawei, and there were smoke and banners in Yangon.

Connectivity & the Coup

Last week, Telenor Group announced that it had agreed to sell 100 percent of its Myanmar operations to the M1 Group, which is affiliated with the Burmese military, for $105 million. This news shocked netizens, as many had believed Telenor Myanmar would continue to operate in the country for the long haul. The brand had been pushing back against the regime since Feb 1st, setting an example for other brands to follow. It was considered the safest of the four operators in Myanmar, even though netizens knew that it was becoming increasingly difficult for Telenor to resist the junta’s requests for user data and information.

Telenor’s decision was foreshadowed by an announcement on July 2 that the company was in the process of evaluating various options regarding its presence in the country. This came shortly after reports that the junta was ordering senior foreign executives of major telecommunication firms in Myanmar that they could not leave the country without permission. In addition, a second directive ordered telecom companies to fully implement intercept technology to track users’ messages, calls, and web traffic.

Since the announcement, 464 Burmese civil society groups have called on Telenor and the Norwegian government to cancel the sale.

Brands & the Coup

Bridgestone, Japan’s number one tire company, announced that it will shut down operations in Myanmar at the end of July. The company also announced that it will no longer be levying YCDC BS signboard taxes on contractors. It will also be canceling all consignment agreements with customers.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support your employees: As the COVID-19 situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines for COVID-19 prevention and support teams with supplies if they are sick.

Support local independent media:  Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if you are able.

02.07.2021 / Briefing #22

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

This week, a shoot-out occurred between regime troops and an unidentified attacker who shot a police officer in front of a branch of the state-owned Myanma Economic Bank. After the unknown attacker escaped, it was reported that soldiers shot at civilians and residential buildings, injuring two civilians.

More than 700 people fleeing violence in Myanmar have crossed into India’s Mizoram state seeking refuge in the past few weeks. A total of 10,025 Myanmar refugees are in Mizoram today, most of whom are civilians including pregnant women, children, senior citizens, and lawmakers. Many are from Chin state due to growing unrest there.

The military junta has recently turned its attention to lawyers defending political prisoners and activists, arresting at least five lawyers across Myanmar. The deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division has expressed concerns that this could potentially cut off a vital source of information about detained prisoners. Since Feb 1, the junta has killed over 800 civilians and arrested and charged or sentenced more than 6,000 protestors. charged or sentenced more than 6,000 protestors.

The Voice of Spring Daily, a grassroots news channel on Twitter, recently went underground after soldiers targeted the organizers. It has resumed operations with its members in hiding. The channel distributes news in pamphlet form, which it encourages readers to share, print and distribute in their townships.

Dr. Sasa, the National Unity Government’s (NUG) minister for International Cooperation, said at a recent press conference that they have received more than 400,000 emails that could be used to prosecute the military junta at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Netizens were overjoyed and urged Dr. Sasa to act as soon as possible.

The third wave of COVID-19 has begun in Myanmar, with daily increases in the number of cases and deaths. On June 30, the junta reported 1,312 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths, the highest single-day since December. The current death toll is 3,334. Quarantine centers have been reported as having inadequate facilities compared to those prior to the coup. Vaccines are available, but both supply and delivery have become huge problems under the junta. Netizens are sharing memes to express their frustration at having to experience both a coup and a third wave, and there is a public campaign to resist receiving vaccines, as many nurses and doctors remain on strike. on strike.

Influencers & the Coup

The junta has dropped section 505a charges against 24 celebrities and influencers, most of whom were in hiding, stating that these celebrities were only involved in protests due to external forces and pressure. Some notable figures on the list include rock singer Han Nay Thar, rapper G Fatt, singer Mary, singer Chit Thu Wai, and social media influencers Naw Phaw Ehtar and Kyaw Kyaw Nanda. Although their charges have been dropped, they are still at risk of arrest and sentencing if caught carrying out the same actions. Many netizens were overjoyed, while others expressed suspicion that the celebrities may have been offered deals for the sake of propaganda. Over 100 celebrities are still detained in Yangon’s Insein prison.

On Wednesday evening, more than 2,000 people were released from Insein prison, following military statements earlier in the week. Among them were six journalists: Myanmar Now multimedia reporter Kay Kay Zon Nway, Aung Ye Ko from 7 Day News, freelancers Banyar Oo and Soe Yarzar Tun, Ye Myo Khant of Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, and Zeekwat Media’s Hein Pyae Zaw. All of them were arrested in late February while covering street protests in Yangon.

Actress and social media influencer May Toe Khine was also released, but Eaindra Kyaw Zin and Pyay Ti Oo, her famed aunt and uncle who were arrested on the same day as her in mid-April, remain in detention.

Netizens celebrated this moment online but many also acknowledged that this was a tactical action to appease the international community. The AAPP reported that the military is seeking international recognition for the release of detainees specifically from the United Nations. Arrests continue, and 3,000 people are still in prison including journalists, CDM participants and political activists.

News & Media

Nathan Maung, who was released from prison two weeks ago and is currently in the United States, spoke to CNN about his three months in prison, describing it as “hell” in which he was tortured by soldiers attempting to extract information on the whereabouts of senior opposition members and activist leaders. Maung’s colleague Hanthar Nyein and US journalist Danny Fenster are still detained.

This week, the junta has also threatened to take legal action against foreign media with correspondents based in Yangon if they continue to use the term “junta” or report fake news on the situation. The junta had made the same threat to local, independent media in February.

Brands & the Coup

The Thilawa Special Economic Zone Committee has appointed Yan Naing Tun as its new chairman. Under the NLD government, he was let go from his position as Director General of the ministry of economy and commerce. 

More than 30 factories have ceased operations in the 6 months since the junta took power.

A new report from Global Watch found that the military junta has further tightened its grip on the country’s jade trade, using the industry to finance the coup. The corruption within the jade industry reaches to the top ranks of the military, involving Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s son. The report predicted that the coup had enhanced its ties to the multibillion-dollar industry whose business mostly goes to China. It called for sanctions and other punitive measures against those involved to stop the military from using profits to fight against the movement for democracy.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in-person and online.

Support local independent media:  Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if you are able.

25.06.2021 / Briefing #21

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

The UN General Assembly has issued a resolution condemning the military coup and called for an arms embargo against the country. 119 countries voted “yes,” Belarus voted “no,” and 36 countries abstained, among which were ASEAN neighbor states Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.

Tensions remained high this week. Fighting broke out between the military and the People’s Defense Force Mandalay (Mdy PDF) a group formed by local resistance fighters who underwent military training provided by ethnic armed groups. An informant revealed the location of the the Mdy PDF’s base base in Mandalay to the military and soldiers arrived early Tuesday morning and attacked the base, using excessive force that endangered civilian lives as well. 

As the Mdy PDF tried to escape to safety, netizens came together and rolled out a support campaign posting emergency medic numbers, blood donation centers, and a call to action to not upload any videos of the raid online so that the identities of the fighters would not be exposed.

It was the first time in over a month that fighting erupted in a major city. Most recent clashes had occurred in rural areas near the border. During the raid, two of Mdy PDF’s resistance fighters were killed and six were arrested. Following the raid, foreign embassies in Myanmar – including those of the U.S., Germany, and France – released statements expressing concern over civilian casualties and called for a cessation of violence.

The Karen National Union (KNU) also released a statement promising to continue fighting the military regime and protecting unarmed civilians. Protestors across the country lit candles, banged pots and pans, and marched that night in defiance of the attacks in Mandalay.

A former monk named Kaythara left monkhood and changed his name to George Michael, giving up his vow against killing in response to the killing of peaceful protestors. He was head monk of the Dhamma Darna monastery in Hlaingthaya township, an industrial area that soldiers heavily cracked down on in March.

An investigation by rights group Global Witness found that Facebook continues to promote content that incites violence against Myanmar’s coup protestors and amplifies fake news, misinformation, and disinformation about the pro-democracy. Such posts include glorification of military violence, death threats, fake news that Isis is present in Myanmar, and repetition of the military’s official statement that they seized power due to voter fraud, which is unsupported by evidence.

In February, Facebook had released a statement promising to clamp down on the misuse of its platform and remove all accounts by military-controlled media and high-ranking officials including praise, support, and advocacy of violence by military forces.

Influencers & the Movement

This week, Raymond, the lead singer of Burmese rock band Idiots, passed away from malaria. He was one of the most active and prominent influencers in the pro-democracy movement and was wanted by the military. He had been charged under Penal Code 505a along with over 100 other influencers, celebrities, and content creators. He fled to the border as he went into hiding. 

There was an outpouring of grief and support online as protestors mourned Raymond’s death across the world. Artists, influencers, protestors, and poets paid tribute to Raymond with illustrations, performances of his songs, and videos of him participating in marches. Malaria is curable, but the junta has made it extremely difficult to get medical supplies, food, and aid to border areas.

Meanwhile, a top-tier lifestyle influencer considered the sweetheart of Myanmar before the coup lost all her brand deals. The influencer had been largely silent since the coup, but this week she uploaded a live video of herself donating supplies to displaced villagers running away from soldiers. The military has been destroying and blockading medical and food supplies, and her video revealed a delivery route people were using to avoid them. More soldiers are now placed along that highway, making it more difficult for aid to reach those in need. 

Netizens were outraged by the video and called for a boycott of the influencer and calling for brands to end their partnerships with her. As a result, over 20 brands including Samsung, Centuri Mattress, Bella Cosmetics, and many more released statements that they will be removing all content featuring the influencer and ending activities with her.

News & Media

Danny Fenster, a US journalist who is detained at Insein Prison, appeared at a court in Yangon for the first time. He had not been heard from in the 25 days since his detention. He was charged under Penal Code 505a, which carries a potential 3-year prison term. His second appearance will be in two weeks. 

It has become increasingly difficult for ethnic media to report news as well. Many ethnic media organizations are suspending operations and their journalists are fleeing. The fighting between the resistance and soldiers in border areas has made it difficult to gather and report news safety.

A freelance journalist in Kachin state, Zaw Win Maung, has been arrested and charged under section 505a of Penal Code. He is the second freelancer to be arrested in Kachin.

Brands & the Coup

The European Union recently imposed more sanctions on several senior officials and organizations in Myanmar due to the military coup. The EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes on eight officials and froze the assets of 3 economic entities including the War Veterans Organization. Ministers, deputy ministers and attorney generals were targeted for violating human rights.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.

Support local independent media:  Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if you are able.

18.06.2021 / Briefing #20

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

This week, detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial more than four months after the military junta seized power on Feb 1st. Prosecutors began examining witnesses at a special court in Naypyidaw. She faces five charges of alleged violations, including violating a communications law by importing walkie-talkies without a license and defying COVID-19 countermeasures. Netizens took to social media to show their overwhelming support for Aung San Suu Kyi and condemn the trial. support for Aung San Suu Kyi and condemn the trial.

Three striking teachers in Myeik township, Tanintharyi Regions, were each sentenced to three years in prison for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). They had been charged under Penal Code 505a. Striking teachers have been arrested across the country and over 100,000 have been suspended. In Tanintharyi region, 7,236 teachers and administrative staff were suspended.

Despite the risk of arrest, many young people continue to protest on the streets across the country in a “flash mob style”: beginning without notice and quickly dispersing before they can be arrested. This week, youth protestors were seen burning the ASEAN flag to express their dissatisfaction with the organization’s lack of concrete action and effective solutions. Additionally, netizens organized an online campaign called #black4rohingya to show solidarity with the Rohingya community. The campaign quickly became viral, with thousands flooding social media with pictures of themselves wearing black shirts.

The Mandalay City Development Committee has demanded businesses, billboard vendors, and street sellers remove ads in Yangon and Mandalay that feature influencers or celebrities charged under Penal Code 505a. The junta has also begun to remove billboards featuring Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. 

A recent report by the Asian Development Bank on the economic outlook for 2021 stated that Myanmar’s growth is likely to contract by 9.8% in fiscal year 2021 and inflation is expected to accelerate, both due to the political unrest and its impact on supply chains and transportation.

In an attempt to ease economic hardships on Burmese students, the United States has loosened F-1 visa rules for students currently studying in the US. Students can now pursue a 4-year degree by completing six credit hours per semester (12 were previously required) and can work an unlimited number of hours off-campus even in their first year. 

News & Media

Nathan Maung, a US journalist and co-founder of Kamayut Media, one of the top-tier independent media outlets in the country, has been released from prison after police withdrew charges against him. He was arrested in March and will now be able to fly back to the United States.

Brands & the Coup

The campaign to boycott Chinese brands and products has remained a trending topic on social media for 5 months. Most recently, a musician announced that he will no longer extend his contract with music streaming platform JOOX and is in talks to remove his songs from the application. Additionally, a well-known comic page made a viral post about boycotting Chinese brands and included recommendations of non-Chinese brands to use instead. 

South Korea-based Kookmin Bank Company Limited (KB Bank Myanmar), the first foreign bank to obtain a subsidiary banking license, announced that it will close its Yangon office and suspend operations in Myanmar.

Penthouse, a popular rooftop bar and restaurant, has also announced that they will be closing operations at the end of June. 

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

 Plan for crisis:  The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support youremployees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.

Support local independent media:  Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if you are able.

11.06.2021 / Briefing #19

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

Fighting between the military junta and rebel groups continues to intensify across the country. This week, nearly 100,000 people have been displaced in Kayah state, near the southeastern border with Thailand. Those areas have been hit by fighting and are in urgent need of supplies and humanitarian assistance, which has been delayed due to the military junta’s travel restrictions.

Additionally, the junta has suspended humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders) from operating in Dawei, Tanintharyi Region. Their Myittar Yeik clinic has been providing HIV care in Dawei for almost two decades, including outreach programs to prevent marginalized and at-risk people from becoming infected. The suspension will affect more than 2000 HIV and TB patients.

The first court hearing of Paing Takhon, an internationally recognized model and actor, was held in Insein Prison, where he will be prosecuted under the Penal Code Section 505a. He was arrested over a month ago, along with several influencers and celebrities who had been actively supporting the pro-democracy movement. Since Feb 1, dozens of filmmakers, painters, poets, musicians, influencers, and artists have been detained by the military. Poet Maung Yu Pye has also been sentenced to two years in prison by a court set up inside Myeik Prison in Tanintharyi region.

Senior general Min Aung Hlaing said in a council meeting this week that the country had improved over the past four months since the coup and will be revising the fiscal year period which was approved by the Pyidaunsu Hluttaw and NLD government. This is contrary to reports from both local and international news outlets. The World Bank has projected that Myanmar’s economy will contract by 10% this year due to the coup.

News & Media

The three senior DVB journalists and two activists who were sentenced to seven months in prison for illegal crossing of the Thai border by a court in Chiang Mai have had their sentences suspended. They have now left Thailand and are safe in another country whose location is undisclosed for their protection.

Brands & the Coup

The military junta has banned imports of soap, shower gel, detergent, toothpaste, and toothbrushes at border trade zones, citing measures to protect Myanmar’s independent enterprises and reduce the use of foreign currency. Netizens are outraged, with many saying it is part of an elaborate effort to coerce people to buy products from military-owned companies’ products that they have been boycotting. The junta also banned imported instant coffee, soda, and condensed milk from Thailand in April. The military owns businesses in banking, brewing, transportation, mining, toothpaste, condensed milk, and other everyday items.

AceCook Myanmar, famous for its instant noodles, recently announced that it will suspend all of its operations, from production to marketing, starting at the end of June. They say the shutdown is due to a scarcity of raw materials and limited banking access caused by the unstable political environment. This brings the total to 30 factories who have suspended or shut down operations due to the coup.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis:  The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.

Support local independent media:  Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if you are able.

04.06.2021 / Briefing #18

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

The week marks the beginning of the fifth month since the coup began on Feb 1st. At least 840 civilians have been killed and 4409 people are currently detained in prison, with arrest warrants issued for 1881. Among them, 20 people have been sentenced to death and 14 to three years of imprisonment with hard labor. However, the pro-democracy movement continues to grow and maintain international support. 

Swimmer Win Htet Oo, who qualified for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics but withdrew in protest has launched a petition calling on the International Olympic Committee to ban the Myanmar Olympic Committee from representing the country, citing the principles of the Olympic Charter.

Since Win Htet Oo’s withdrawal, more athletes have taken a stand: at least 10 players refused to participate in the World Cup qualifier against Japan. At that game, during the national anthem, a substitute goalkeeper gave the three-finger salute.

The new academic year begins in June, but many schools reopened to empty classrooms. The federation has announced that only 10 percent of the country’s estimated 9,000,000 (*) students opted to enroll this year, and over 100,000 teachers were suspended last month for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement. In the past few weeks, a nationwide campaign was carried out against school enrollment, with students burning certificates and awards. More than 100 striking teachers have been charged under Penal Code 505a.

Meanwhile, there has been an increase in the number of explosions taking place in schools, education facilities, and offices. In cities with heavy military presence, soldiers are stationed at certain schools and are riding school buses.

Japan has become the fourth country that has offered to extend residential permits for Myanmar nationals, after the USA, Australia, and South Korea. It will allow Myanmar nationals residing there to extend their visas for up to a year, and those who wish to stay longer will also be allowed to work. The emergency measure will cover Myanmar civilians seeking refugee status in Japan, currently a total of 2944.  

(*) The article lists 900,000, but that number would be impossibly low. We believe they mistakenly left off a zero.

News & Media

A total of 87 journalists have been arrested since February 1st and many continue to flee to neighboring countries to escape the junta’s crackdown.

Aung Kyaw, a DVB reporter, and Zaw Zaw, a Mizzima News freelancer, have been sentenced to two years in prison by a special court set up inside Myeik prison in Tanintharyi region. The two journalists were convicted of violating Penal Code section 505a. 

A few weeks ago, three senior DVB journalists and two activists were arrested by Thai police for illegal entry. They have now been fined and face possible deportation. A court has sentenced them to a one-year probation period and fined them 4000 baht each. They will also face seven months in prison if they commit the same crime again.

Mratt Kyaw Thu, a freelance journalist, arrived in Madrid early this week where he is seeking asylum. Mratt gained a huge following during the coup and became a go-to source of news and information for netizens. Before fleeing the country, he was in hiding as the military junta sought his arrest. 

Brands & the Coup

Many netizens continue to call on people to boycott all Chinese brands, continuing the boycott campaign that began in late February. Recently, Wai Wai (aka ICE), a top player in the professional Mobile Legends team Burmese Ghoul, announced that he was selling his esports account as part of his effort to boycott all Chinese brands.

Shares in Amanta Holding Public have made their debut on the Yangon Stock Exchange, making it only the seventh company to be listed on the exchange (and the first since 2014). The exchange is run by the military-owned Myanma Economic Bank (MEB). Amata is the first hotel and tourism business in Myanmar to be listed on the exchange. 

The Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank announced that it would consider funding projects in Myanmar despite the current political crisis. AIIB currently does not have any new projects planned for Myanmar but stated that they have a framework for dealing with de facto governments.

Following announcements by oil and gas giants Total and Chevron that they would suspend payments to the junta, POSCO has announced it is reviewing dividend payments on a gas project in Myanmar. If suspended, it would place additional financial pressure on the military junta, for which oil and gas is a major source of foreign revenue.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis:  The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.

Support local independent media:  Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if necessary.

28.05.2021 / Briefing #17

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

This week, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court in person for the first time since February 1st. Netizens felt relieved and encouraged, as she looked healthy and gave statements of resilience. Meanwhile, Mr. Linn Thant, a representative from the National Unity Government (NUG) was recognized as an official representative by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is the first international recognition since the formation of the NUG, and netizens are counting it as a big win.

The NUG also issued a letter of appreciation to all the artists in Myanmar and around the world who have been creating revolutionary art, contributing to the movement, and standing in solidarity with Myanmar.

Miss Universe Myanmar, Thuzar Wint Lwin, has received asylum in the United States to protect her from persecution by the military junta after she spoke out against them during the competition. The Chin community in Indiana reportedly helped her gain asylum. She will now be working as a model in New York City with the agency We Are Jem. 

News & Media

The Myanmar media community is experiencing extremely difficult circumstances, as the junta continue to crack down on them and journalists continue to be arrested, detained, and charged under accusations of incitement. Most recently, Frontier Myanmar’s managing editor, Danny Fenster, was detained at Yangon International Airport and later transferred to Insein Prison. He was the fourth foreign journalist to be arrested since the coup – a Polish reporter and a twice-held Japanese photojournalist have been deported, while another reporter of U.S citizenship, Nathan Maung, remains detained.

Brands & the Coup

Total and Chevron have suspended payments to the military junta from their joint venture on the Yadana gas pipeline project, following weeks of campaigning and pressure from Myanmar and ASEAN activists. Netizens are applauding the two companies for taking a step in the right direction.

As we enter the fifth month of the coup, we’re seeing more investments and businesses pull out of the country. Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, operator of the Peninsula Chain, has announced it will suspend construction on its planned $130 million Yangon property for a year due to the unstable situation. The project involved the redevelopment of the former colonial-style downtown headquarters of the Myanmar Railway Co. into an 88-room luxury hotel. Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels owns 70% of the project, with the rest owned by Yoma Strategic Investments and First Myanmar Investment.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has stated that Japan is also considering cutting off all official development assistance to Myanmar, including ongoing projects if the situation does not improve.

Connectivity & the Movement

The military junta has whitelisted more than 1,200 online services and domain names that they deem acceptable for public usage. Since the beginning of the coup, the junta has blocked access to certain websites, social media platforms, and all VPNs while instituting a 24-hour nationwide ban on mobile data and wireless broadband.

Facebook and Twitter remain blocked, as the junta aims to curb organization by anti-coup protesters. Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, Tinder, Zoom, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Viber, and more than 20 delivery services (such as Grab and Food Panda) have been whitelisted.

The US Department of State’s website, Share America, reports that whitelisting is another way of blocking the internet and an attack on freedom of expression.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Ensure data security: Considering recent revelations about online privacy, we suggest that companies invest in a robust, up-to-date IT setup to protect their employees from cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. We also recommend equipping all of your teams with secure VPNs from trusted providers.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.

Support local independent media:   Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if necessary.

21.05.2021 / Briefing #16

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

This week, netizens were filled with pride as Thuzar Wint Lwin, Myanmar’s 2021 Miss Universe contestant, used the pageant to urge the global community to speak out against the junta. They applauded her bravery in using her platform to maintain global awareness of the, despite the risk that she could be arrested as soon as she returns to Myanmar. Thuzar won the award for Best National Costume, which was based on the ethnic costume of her Chin people, and she carried a placard that read “Pray for Myanmar”.

At the same time, former beauty queen Htar Htet Htet, joined a rebel group and took up arms to fight against the Myanmar military, similarly arousing netizens’ pride. She represented Myanmar in the first Miss Grand International pageant in Thailand in 2013.  

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it will provide an emergency aid grant of 4 million USD for food assistance in Myanmar through the World Food Program. The grant will help WFP to help some 600,000 people in Yangon. As we enter the fourth month of the coup, WFP estimates that up to 3.4 million people, particularly those in urban areas, will face a shortage of food during the next six months.

News & Media

Min Nyo, a DVB reporter from Pyay in the Bago region has been sentenced to three years in prison by a court inside Pyay Prison. He was arrested while reporting on a protest and has been charged under Section 505a. He is one of nearly 50 journalists detained by the junta since the beginning of the coup.

The military council has also recently stated that a sentence of three years to seven years’ imprisonment can be imposed under section 52 of the anti-terrorism law for hiding members of an organization that has been declared a terrorist organization, while funding or donating to such organizations can result in a sentence of up to 10 years. Since the coup, the military junta has declared the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), National Unity Government (NUG), the People’s Defense Force (PDF), and all their affiliates as terrorists. This indicates that journalists, activists, celebrities, and members of the public could all be charged under this law.

Freelance Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi, who was arrested while covering the coup in Myanmar, has been deported to Tokyo. State media announced that charges against him were dropped as a diplomatic gesture and to establish a friendly relationship between Myanmar and Japan.

Following the arrest of three senior DVB journalists and two activists by Thai police for entering the country illegally, the Thai Prime Minister has told the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Myanmar that those fleeing the conflict will not be deported from Thailand.

Reuters has collaborated with Facebook to offer journalists and citizen journalists a course on reporting critically, ethically, and responsibly, which multiple Myanmar journalists have reported taking. As military control of newspapers has rendered social media the main platform for sharing news and information, sound journalistic standards are extremely crucial. 

Brands & the Coup

Fashion retail giant H&M has begun placing orders again with its suppliers in Myanmar after pausing them at the beginning of the coup in February. The brand announced that it had done its due diligence, concluding that its suppliers had no direct links to the military junta.

Meanwhile, Food Panda Myanmar reassured its stakeholders and consumers that it will continue to operate in Myanmar despite the uncertainties and unstable environment. While the business has become very limited due to the nationwide internet blackout on mobile data and wireless broadband, the brand will stay committed to the country.

KBZ and CB Bank recently announced that they will be refilling select ATMs with money for withdrawals. The cash crisis in Myanmar is one of the most pressing issues facing the country, as cash is increasingly running low. Citizens across the country queue in front of banks and ATMs as early as 5 AM, despite withdrawal limits of 200,000 to 300,000MMK per day. It’s also become almost impossible to acquire US dollars or other foreign currency at regular exchange counters in Yangon. Meanwhile, Central Bank’s junta-appointed Vice Chairman announced that the banking system will return to normal by June.

The United Kingdom announced sanctions on Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE) a distributor of jade and other precious stones that had already been blacklisted by the United States. MGE is a state-owned enterprise that oversees the multi-billion-dollar gem trade in Myanmar and has fallen under the junta’s control following the coup.

Yoma Strategic Holdings reported a $19.92 million net loss during the six-month period that ended on 31 March 2021. The group’s businesses were impacted by the global pandemic and the unstable economic situation due to the coup.

Connectivity & the Movement

The International Crisis Group recently released a report focusing on the military junta’s efforts to restrict internet access, which has garnered widespread international coverage.

The report discusses how the military pushed out directives to telecom companies for a ‘lawful intercept’ plan that would enable them to listen in on calls, view text messages and web traffic (including email), and track the locations of users without assistance of telecom companies. It had tried to gain more control over phone and internet use since 2019, but only successfully deployed intercept spyware in the months before the coup.

The pro-democracy movement has been largely organized online and has been able to circumvent internet restrictions placed by the junta. The report states that the military junta has been unable to effectively control the movement and does not appear to have a long-term strategy in place. As such, the nationwide blackout will likely continue indefinitely.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and potential benefit to communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet. We suggest companies to invest in a robust, up-to-date IT set up to prevent cyber-attacks, hacks, and information theft. Equip all teams with VPN providers that are trusted and has the best security. Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.

Support local independent media:   Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if necessary.

13.05.2021 / Briefing #15

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 
 
Today marks the 102nd day of the coup in Myanmar. Despite efforts from the military junta to suppress protestors through violence, arbitrary arrests, and house raids, the pro-democracy movement continues to make significant developments across the country and maintain global awareness.
 
One of the first large-scale protests since the brutal crackdown on March 27 was staged this week, in which nearly 500 youths took to the streets in Tanintharyi region. Netizens also mobilized an online protest called the White Coat Strike to honor the doctors, medics, and ambulance workers providing emergency support and trauma care despite persecution and the threat of death.

A survey conducted across 14 regions in Myanmar by independent analytics group Researcher Myanmar looked into people’s sentiments on the pro-democracy movement. 85.4% of respondents believe that the anti-coup resistance will succeed. When asked why 42.2% said it was due to public resistance.

Myanmar’s first-ever non-fungible token (NFT) is up for sale. The digital artwork is a collaborative piece portraying the three-finger salute, in which 11 artists created a sea of three fingers just days after the coup on Feb 1. Proceeds from the sale will support organizations providing food, shelter, and care in conflict-torn areas.

Brands & the Coup

A joint survey was recently released by 10 Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Myanmar that assessed the impact of one year of Covid in 2020 as well as the current political crisis. A total of 372 companies across several different sectors with various nationalities participated in the survey. The survey was entirely anonymous, and participation was limited to members of these 10 Chambers of Commerce. According to the survey results, about 13% of companies have already closed their businesses in Myanmar, while 33% have reduced their businesses by 75% or more. The survey notes that the outlook can still be viewed positively, as many companies have not finalized their decisions and strategies, as they are waiting to see if the environment improves by the end of the year.

An investigative team at Kyodo News agency found that at least 10 Japanese companies have had direct business ties with firms affiliated with the Myanmar military that could be sources of income for the junta. Among the firms are Japan Bank for International Cooperation, construction firm Fujita Corp., and property manager Tokyo Tatemono Co.

Last month, Justice for Myanmar called on commercial tenants of the Sule Square complex of high-end offices and shops located in downtown Yangon to stop indirectly supporting the military. The activist group cited a study by the United Nations that stated the complex is built on military-owned land. Following this, a number of global firms have either moved out or are reviewing their leases, including McKinsey, Coca-Cola, and Reuters. Among the eight companies, two cited the military link for moving out.

Connectivity & the Movement

While the nationwide internet shutdowns and ban on social media platforms continue, the military junta has whitelisted certain financial services and banking applications to be accessible through mobile connections. Telenor recently published an editorial on the negative impacts of a whitelisting approach on both brands and consumers. The brand expressed deep concern and urged the junta to restore full internet access.

News & Media

More journalists and activists are fleeing to neighboring countries. Last week, we reported that two journalists from Mizzima News received sanctuary by an Indian court. But this is not always the case. Three senior DVB journalists and two activists who escaped to Thailand were arrested by the police in Chaing Mai. DVB is calling for Thai authorities to not deport them back to Myanmar, where they will face persecution.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and what they can offer communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to resume communication in a non-commercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures regarding their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet.  Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in-person and online.

Support local independent media:   Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if necessary.

06.05.2021 / Briefing #14

As with each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

This week, protestors continue to take to the streets, with early morning demonstrations in the city of Mandalay and Kachin state. A week after the ASEAN summit in which the leaders demanded an “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar” the military junta is still using excessive force to crackdown on peaceful demonstrations. At least 3 civilians were killed in Kachin state during the military junta’s excessive airstrikes. Among them was a 10-year-old boy. 

The National Unity Government (NUG) has named more cabinet members, including renowned LGBTQIA and human rights activist U Aung Myo Min as Minister of Human Rights. Netizens applauded the list as inclusive and diverse, as it features members from various backgrounds, communities, and ethnicities.

The military junta has pushed back the start of the nightly curfew from 8PM to 10PM. Netizens have called this a tactic by the junta to gain the people’s favor and to boost the economy by extending business hours.

Brands & the coup

More businesses and brands are now considering how to resume communicating and operating on social media. Many have begun to test the waters, carefully redefining messages and content to achieve the right tone and align with the needs of consumers today.

However, one major, local private bank came under fire this week for launching a new service called a Flexi Cash account. The service provides an interest rate of 8 percent when people open a new savings account under Flexi Cash and deposit money, with no limit on how much they can deposit. Many netizens called this launch insensitive and tone-deaf, as it is increasingly difficult to take out money from both ATMs and current savings accounts. 

This week, Norwegian telecom Telenor wrote off the value of its Myanmar operation, completely removing the country from its overall corporate outlook for 2021. The decision was made due to Myanmar’s economic turmoil, instability, and restrictions for all operators. However, currently, Telenor continues to operate in Myanmar.

South Korean activists organized and delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures calling for steel-making company POSCO to cut all ties with the military junta and suspend its gas payments. ASEAN and global allies continue to put pressure on POSCO and French oil and gas company Total to suspend all ties with the military junta.

News & Media

On May 3, netizens celebrated World Press Freedom Day in Myanmar by calling for the release of 45 detained journalists, including freelance Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi, who has just been charged with spreading fake news. He is the first foreign journalist known to be indicted.

While journalists are detained and persecuted, the military junta opened the Myawaddy Media Center in an attempt to further establish their control over independent media and spread propaganda news. The center also has an indoor production space that can be used to create news and educational videos. The opening ceremony was attended by top military officials and pro-military celebrities. 

Meanwhile, two journalists from Mizzima News who had fled from Myanmar to India after their arrest warrants came out a month ago have been granted sanctuary by an Indian court in Manipur state. Mizzima News was one of the first organizations to have its operating license revoked, and its office was raided on March 9. 

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and what they are able to offer communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures with regards to their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet.  Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in-person and online.

Support local independent media:   Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if necessary.

29.04.2021 / Briefing #13

This week contained several significant developments in the pro-democracy movement.

International and local attention was focused on the ASEAN summit, held in Indonesia on April 24, in hopes that ASEAN would be able to find a resolution to the crisis. The leaders met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and reached a five-point consensus to tackle the crisis, among which were the “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar” and a visit by the ASEAN special envoy. The NUG has welcomed the five-point plan, saying that it is a step in the right direction and that they look forward to “firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions.” However, two days later the military junta responded in its official newspaper that it would only consider the five-point plan after stabilizing the country.

Former US President Barack Obama also spoke up for Myanmar, calling on the world to not accept the actions of the military junta and support a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Win Htet Oo, Myanmar’s leading freestyle swimmer, has announced that he will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics in protest against the coup and the military junta.

Myanmar youth have begun to protest in the streets again. Due to the violent crackdowns, large street protests had dwindled in past weeks, but many youth have come out again since April 23. Young people are also setting fire to their school certificates and awards in protest against the military junta’s plan to reopen schools.

As we have done each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands.

News & media

Three months into the coup, there have been a total of 75 journalists arrested. 32 of them were released, while 43 are awaiting trial. Arrest warrants are also out for 22 journalists who have been charged under Penal Code 505a. Also on the warrant list are 20 medical doctors who allegedly violated Penal Code 505As.

Amidst the targeted suppression of Myanmar’s journalists, this week brings good news to the community. U Swe Win, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now, is to receive the 2021 Shorenstein Journalism Award. The award is conferred on a journalist who has contributed significantly to a better understanding of Asia. Myanmar Now is an independent news agency that publishes features, investigative reports, and in-depth analysis of issues in Myanmar in both English and Burmese. They have been heavily targeted by the military junta – their office raided, journalists arrested, and license revoked.

We have also begun to see some smaller media channels resume publishing regular content such as brand and product news. One tier-3 channel has started sharing smartphone product content, but it has not garnered significant engagement from netizens. Some top-tier tech bloggers have asked netizens if they should start posting regular content, promising that it will not be commercial.

Japanese freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi, who was arrested last week, has made direct contact with the Japanese embassy in Myanmar for the first time. He is reportedly in good health and has not been subjected to violence. He was also briefly detained while covering protests in Yangon on Feb 26.

A South Korean news magazine has a dedicated social media page and website called Watching Myanmar that aims to raise awareness of the coup and show South Korea’s solidarity with the people of Myanmar. This is just the latest initiative from ASEAN and global organizations in support of the pro-democracy movement.

Brands & the coup

As we observed last week, some brands have begun to communicate through social media with a service-focused mindset. A Chinese smartphone brand has opened up its customer care centers, offering free WiFi to the public. Netizens are applauding the brand for supporting people.

This week, a couple of brands in the health and tech industry shifted focus to more promotional content. Although the frequency of content is lower, some brands are testing the waters with their audience by communicating promotional and product-related content. So far, these posts have very little engagement, but none of that has been negative.

Despite the current crisis, Guangzhou Automobile Group is pressing on with its plans to start manufacturing cars in Myanmar. The company is in the initial stages of constructing its Yangon plant and has reported it has not been affected by the civil unrest. The plant is a joint venture with LS Automotive, a local company that has been distributing GAC cars since 2016.

The Central Bank of Myanmar recently announced that the public can withdraw an unlimited amount of money from banks if they open a new account with deposits. As most of Myanmar’s population is unbanked, this could be a means to convince them to give the military access to their money. Many netizens see this as a sign that the military junta is running low on funds.

The state-owned media channel MRTV has announced that all civil servants who have taken part in CDM will be pardoned and are requested to return to work. Upon seeing this news, many netizens are encouraging the civil servants and the public to continue supporting the movement. In a big boost, the National Unity Government (NUG) has declared that it will provide financial support to civil servants who refuse to work.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile and new developments come constantly, but our overall recommendations remain the same as last week.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. Each week, we’re seeing more brands restart basic communication on social media. We suggest that brands consider their purpose, value, and what they are able to offer communities during this time of crisis. For those whose products can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a noncommercial manner.

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face more pressure than others. We suggest having pro-social crisis communication plans ready for different potential scenarios, as the more prepared you are, the quicker you can respond.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we advise that brands take necessary measures with regards to their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet.  Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in-person and online.

Support local independent media:   Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Keep in touch with journalists in your network to show and provide support if necessary.

22.04.2021 / Briefing #12

Thingyan holiday has ended, but the once joyous event was marked by protests, violence, and despair. The public refused to celebrate the holiday and launched a silent strike while soldiers and junta supporters held celebratory gatherings. During this time, over 60 activists, celebrities, and students were arrested, including Wai Moe Naing, a prominent anti-coup leader from Monywa. Fighting has erupted between the military and ethnic armed organizations near the border with China in Kachin State and in other rural areas. Opponents of the coup have announced the formation of a new government, the National Unity Government (NUG), which includes members of the National League for Democracy as well as anti-coup leaders and ethnic minority representatives.

April 21st marked the 7th anniversary of the death of U Win Tin, a founding member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and respected democratic symbol who spent 19 years as a political prisoner. After he was released, he pledged to wear his blue prison uniform until all political prisoners were freed. To commemorate him, netizens mobilized an online protest called the Blue Shirt Campaign calling for the release of all detainees held since the beginning of the coup. Participants wore blue shirts to represent the prison uniform and write messages on the palms of their hands such as names of people who are currently detained and words of encouragement for them. As of today, more than 3,000 people have been abducted and detained in Myanmar and over 700 have been killed.

As we have done each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations on how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates weekly, or more often if the situation demands.

News & media

The nationwide internet blockade on mobile internet and wireless broadband continues. The internet cut-off means that only 0.5% of the country has consistent internet access, which makes sharing information, evidence, and support extremely difficult, especially in rural areas, but journalists and the public continue to find ways to connect and report news.

The NUG has created a media channel, Public Voice Television, to inform and update the public on their actions, policies, and goals. The channel has a partnership with Mizzima and DVB to broadcast news on TV, aiming to reach audiences with unstable or no internet connections. This is part of the NUG’s goal to gain local and international legitimacy and recognition. Despite relentless efforts by the junta, they have not been able to suppress the spread of information.

However, journalists continue to face risks and arrests. This past week, three reporters from Myitkyina Journal, which has closely covered anti-regime protests in the city, were arrested and remain in detention at a military interrogation center. A Japanese freelance journalist was also detained by security forces in Yangon’s Insein prison based on an accusation of spreading fake news. A total of 65 reporters have been arrested since Feb 1, 2021.

Brands & the coup

We are now observing some brands beginning to communicate through social media.  By and large, the communications are focused on serving the public. Some tech brands, for example, are sharing information on how to maintain data security and keep devices charged with low levels of electricity use. At least one food brand is offering suggestions on what kinds of foods are best to stock up on during a crisis.  This a great role for brands to take during the crisis – providing the public with information that can help them stay connected, healthy, and safe. For those brands unsure how to communicate during this crisis, a service-focused mindset is the best place to start. So is transparency – some Telcom companies, in particular, have openly shared details of the pressures they are facing from the military and the orders they are forced to comply with to remain in business.

Banks continue to receive heavy pressure from both the military junta (to reopen) and the public (to support the movement by remaining closed). They’re in a difficult position and are having to walk a fine line between business and personal threats and massive backlash from netizens. Two major private local banks have come under fire from netizens in the past week for forcing their staff who had been participating in the civil disobedience movement to return to work. The staff has been threatened with losing their jobs or facing pay cuts if they do not return by the end of April. Both banks have remained silent.

Nearly 3 months into the coup, the boycotts against military-owned brands and products continue. Justice for Myanmar has added 3 more businesses and 8 more business associates of the junta onto their boycott list, calling for netizens to avoid them and for the international community to levy targeted sanctions on the associates.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Our overall recommendations remain the same, but their priority has changed.

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should prepare to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. It is not certain when communication campaigns will resume, but brands should plan for all potential outcomes. If your product(s) can ease people’s challenges during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a non-commercial manner (see the Brands and the Coup section above).

Plan for crisis: The situation is changing every week, and brands in certain industries may face different degrees and types of pressure. We suggest having crisis communication plans ready for different scenarios. These plans should draw on your brand’s purpose and value in helping communities in times of turmoil. The more prepared you are, the quicker you’ll be able to act when the time comes.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we advise that brands take necessary measures with regards to their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet.  Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in-person and online.

Support local independent media:Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by advertising with them or donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe.

08.04.2021 / Briefing #10

This week marks the end of CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward’s visit to Myanmar. Her presence in the country received a mixed response. Some felt it didn’t further the movement and only endangered Burmese lives (eleven people she had interviewed were arrested), while others welcomed it, deeming any type of international coverage as worthy and necessary.
 
As we have done each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.

Connectivity & the movement

Despite CNN’s visit, mobile internet and WiFi services remain blocked nationwide. It has been 3 weeks since the military junta expanded the internet blockade to a nationwide 24-hour ban on mobile internet and wireless broadband. There are now reports circulating heavily online that the military junta will cut off all fiber internet services as well, leaving only Direct Internet Access (DIA) to continue operating.
 
This comes at a time when Myanmar’s biggest and most significant annual holiday, Thingyan, or Water Festival, is around the corner. During this time, all but the most essential businesses are closed, which would give many people a chance to protest. Therefore, this action could be another calculated move by the junta to suppress the spread of information by media, journalists, and influencers in order to deter protestors from organizing.
 
However, the movement has been able to adapt very quickly to the ever-changing landscape, with many grassroots organizations mobilizing daily. Soon after the new ban, a youth-led federal FM radio emerged to spread news to areas that now have to rely on traditional media like radio. Another youth group started dispersing pamphlets with daily news in certain townships. The Ministry of Information has issued an announcement that they would take legal action against these groups, whom they deem to be operating illegally.

Influencers & the movement

In addition to 9 journalists who were charged under section 505a of the Penal Code, over 50 influencers have been charged under the same law with warrants out for their arrests. State media announced warrants for influencers in batches every night at 8PM for the past couple of days. Their names, addresses, social media handles, and pictures have all been exposed. These influencers have been constantly using their platforms since the beginning of the coup to spread information, lift spirits, and encourage participation among their huge followings.

A day after the warrant list came out, a very vocal beauty blogger was arrested in Taunggyi. The police stormed the hotel she was staying in, supposedly her hideout since the list came out. And this morning, one of Myanmar’s most popular celebrities was arrested at his home. From the beginning, he had been very active both online and at protests. A day after his name appeared in the warrant list, 50 soldiers with 8 military trucks stormed his house to arrest him. Influencers are now taking stronger measures to minimize the risk of arrest, but it hasn’t stopped them from speaking out. 

News & media

Independent media continue to be targeted and suppressed by the military junta. All independent media stopped publication of print newspapers; their online channels remain. Recently, the Ministry of Information issued a letter to all media companies to not cover stories of individuals who have been charged under section 505a. The letter was sent to MRTV-4, Forever Group Company (which operates Channel 7), Shwe Thanlwin Media Company Limited (Skynet), Family Entertainment Group, Fortune Broadcasting, Shwe FM, Padamyar FM, Bagan FM, Mandalay FM, and Pyinsawaddy FM. These channels have stayed relatively neutral and are mainly sports and entertainment channels. The same channels also received a directive to not re-publish news covered by independent media.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Our overall recommendations remain the same, but their priority has changed.   

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. It is not certain when communications campaigns will resume again, but brands should be ready with communication plans for all potential outcomes. If your product can help the people during this time, there are ways to begin communicating in a non-commercial manner if it serves the wellbeing of people.

Support  your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures with regards to their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet.  Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in-person and online.

Support local independent media:Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by advertising with them or donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe.

01.04.2021 / Briefing #9

In nearly two months since the coup, more than 500 people were killed in the military junta’s lethal efforts to crackdown on protests. The number of casualties rose significantly on Armed Forces Day on March 27th, now dubbed “day of shame” for the military as unarmed civilians and children were killed. 

As we have done each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.

Netizens & brands

An internal email from a military-owned telecommunication brand was leaked onto social media which insisted employees return to work starting April 1st. The email stated guidelines for tracking returning employees and warned those who decide to continue to participate in the CDM that they will not receive salary or compensation. Along with this email, messages from the director with the same sentiments were also leaked. The brand is already part of a targeted sanctions list and many netizens are boycotting it… These leaked documents have only further fueled the netizens’ resolve to boycott all military-owned or affiliated businesses.

Netizens also posted an updated influencer boycott list tracking influencers who have either stayed silent or have only done the bare minimum since the beginning of the coup.

Connectivity & the movement

This week, CNN reporters are visiting the country. There are reports that this is at the request of the military’s lobbyist in an attempt to portray the military junta’s version of the movement.

State media has released news that the mobile data network block will be lifted until further notice. This could be a calculated move to show the military junta’s version of the situation. However, many social media platforms will remain blocked and must be accessed through a VPN.

The military junta is now actively blocking access to media channel websites as well. Myanmar Now is among the first media platforms whose website can no longer be accessed without a VPN.

Protests & the movement

Last week saw the largest human-less protest yet in the form of a nationwide silent strike. This week, netizens mobilized another protest calling for a Trash Strike. Organized by Trash Hero Yangon, the protest called upon people to throw their trash at intersections to try and slow down the movement of police and military vehicles. The trash strike received a mix response from netizens, many of whom believed it was dangerous for the employees of Yangon City Development Committee to clean up afterwards. 

Meanwhile, Han Lay, a Myanmar beauty queen with international presence, spoke out against the military junta’s lethal crackdowns. She is currently in Bangkok competing for the Miss Grand International Crown and raised awareness of the situation in Myanmar to Thai media. Netizens are applauding her for using her international platform well.

The day after the historic Silence Strike, in which many stores, shopping malls and businesses closed, around 70 owners of shopping centers, malls and various stores were summoned by the Yangon region military commander to an army office in the city. The owners were threatened with imprisonment if they are caught supporting anti-coup organizations and the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). In addition to the warning, their immediate family members’ information was recorded and mugshots were taken,  both of which are scare tactics often used by the military.

Soldiers and police are also actively arresting people who are seen wearing protest gear or have it in their cars.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Our overall recommendations remain the same, but their priority has changed.   

Make a positive contribution: It is imperative that brands and leaders make an effort to contribute to Myanmar’s future. Brands are now expected to provide support to the protest movement and those affected by the coup, and those that stay silent or neutral may be boycotted by netizens and consumers    

There are myriad ways brands can contribute to ensure people’s basic needs are being met, including in areas of healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, we strongly recommend taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public.  Our team of consultants in Myanmar is available to provide specific suggestions on actions each brand can take.  

Plan for brand reintroductions: Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. It is not certain when communications campaigns will resume again, but brands should be ready with communication plans for all potential outcomes.

Support local independent media: Independent media are operating under enormous risk. They fill a crucial role in the anti-coup movement by providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advise brands to support independent local media by advertising with them or donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Here are a few accountable fund channels that are supporting the civil disobedience movement and journalists.

Support your employees: As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures with regards to their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet.  Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.

Due to the threats to business owners mentioned above, we are no longer able to recommend specific supportive actions towards the protest movement. As it is unknown whether these threats will be carried out, we suggest that business owners use their own judgment and act with an understanding of the risks they may face by doing so.

24.03.2021 / Briefing #8

Today marks the 10th day since the military junta expanded its overnight internet blockade to a nationwide 24-hour ban on mobile internet, including many types of Wi-Fi. The new ban started on March 15, during the heaviest military crackdown on protestors and front-liners in an industrial township in Yangon.

As we have done each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands. 

Connectivity & the movement

Both mobile data networks and Wi-Fi have been continuously blocked from 1:00AM to 9:00AM in Myanmar since mid-February. Then, on March 15, telecommunication companies began receiving nightly directives to ban certain mobile data and Wi-Fi services 24/7 nationwide. Mobile operators also receive a daily list of VPNs to block in order to prevent netizens from accessing many social media platforms, thereby cutting off their sources of information.

All mobile data networks have stopped functioning, including prepaid internet cards and data packages. However, wireless broadband, fixed internet, and DIA (direct internet access) services have not been blocked. Many netizens can still connect to the internet from their homes, but out on the streets they are completely in the dark.

This action from the junta could be a calculated move to subdue, suppress, and demoralize protestors and front-liners marching in the streets. Without mobile data, protestors are unable to share incriminating videos in real-time, go live during an assault, or communicate with each other outside their immediate area.

This directive began during the most violent assault to date, in Hlaing Tharyar township. Between March 14 and March 18, the assault killed 58 people and injured 53. Since then, the area has been largely quiet, with many of its residents leaving to return to their hometowns and villages.

Businesses & the coup

Since February 1st, the country’s volatile situation and the junta’s use of excessive violent force has created an unworkable situation for many local & foreign companies due to barriers, risks, and ethical dilemmas. Many have ceased commercial communications, advertisements, and campaigns across all channels.

French energy giant EDF is the latest company to pull out of a billion-dollar investment project to build a hydropower dam in Myanmar. The country’s current situation violates the EDF’s policy that all projects must involve “the respect of fundamental human rights”. The Peninsula hotel brand is also reassessing its project in Yangon due to the junta’s continued assault on peaceful protestors across the country.

The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) has also contributed to a standstill for many businesses. Striking truck drivers, port workers, bureaucrats, and bank workers have brought many sectors to a standstill. Yangon is the main port of trade, with close to 70 percent of total recorded trade flow, which has now completely stopped, with nothing going in or out.

Close to 2,000 private banks have stopped working, as many of their staff joined the CDM. This has prevented netizens from making international payments, withdrawals at ATMs, and interbank transfers. Myanmar’s economy has been greatly impacted, and as such the junta increasingly pressures and threatens banks to reopen. Banks face threats of nationalization, having customer accounts forcibly transferred to military and state-run banks, and financial penalties. However, many remain closed, with only a handful of select branches from major banks operating with very limited services.

Protests & the movement

For the past few days, large crowds of protestors have slowed down due to the brutal crackdowns. Instead, people are coming up with creative ways to show their defiance, such as organizing human-less protests. Today, March 24th the biggest human-less protest was organized with a nationwide silent strike. The strike entails no one going out onto the streets and the closure of all shops and service industry businesses. Many businesses have announced that they will be closed today, including Rangoon Tea House, clothing brand Madnest, Kudos Bakery Myanmar, retail giant CMHL, Amazing Sportswear, Krispy Kreme, The Sushi Bar Myanmar, Aliza Skin Republic, Noodle Bowl, the largest pharmacy Shwe Oo, and many others.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Our overall recommendations remain the same, but their priority has changed.   

Make a positive contribution: It is imperative that brands and leaders make an effort to contribute to Myanmar’s future. Brands are now expected to provide support to the protest movement and those affected by the coup, and those that stay silent or neutral may be boycotted by netizens and consumers    

There are myriad ways brands can contribute to ensure people’s basic needs are being met, including in areas of healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, we strongly recommend taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public.  Our team of consultants in Myanmar is available to provide specific suggestions on actions each brand can take.  

Plan for brand reintroductions:  Brands should begin preparations to reconnect with audiences and return to the communication landscape. It is not certain when communications campaigns will resume again, but brands should be ready with communication plans for all potential outcomes.

Support local independent media:Independent media are operating under enormous risks. They are crucial to the movement and providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advice brands to help support independent local media by advertising with them or donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Here are a few accountable fund channels that are supporting the civil disobedience movement and journalists: 

  1. https://www.isupportmyanmar.com/ 
  2. https://www.gofundme.com/f/myanmar-now-under-attack-by-military-dictatorship 
  3. https://www.mutualaidmyanmar.org/

Support your employees: Consider how to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a significant chance that many of your employees will want to participate in demonstrations, and they will expect you to support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do so may lead to backlash.      

Some supportive measures include providing paid time off, information on the best ways to protect oneself while protesting, and safety equipment for those who plan to protest goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, as well as face masks and sanitizers for virus protection.      

 Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.       

As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures with regards to their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet.   

19.03.2021 / Briefing #7

This week the military carried out its deadliest assault yet in Yangon, focused on a few suburban and industrial townships. The city now resembles a battlefield, with an estimated total of over 220 deaths since February 1st.  

As we have done each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.    

News and Media

The military continues to aggressively suppress independent journalists and media houses from reporting on its actions. As of today, a total of 37 journalists have been arrested. Nine reporters who were arrested in mid-February have been charged under section 505a of the Penal Code Section 505a of the Penal Code, which punishes the publication or circulation of any “statement, rumor or report […] with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such.” 

Two more publications have joined the growing list of media houses to suspend operations indefinitely. The Standard Time Daily has suspended both its print and online publications. Duwun has also deactivated its news channel indefinitely, and its Facebook page is no longer accessible. The Myanmar Times and 7 Day News have stopped all operations while Eleven News and The Voice have only suspended their print operations, continuing to report and publish news on their online channels with great difficulty and risk.  

Netizens and Brands

In the past few days, netizens have mobilized to once again boycott Chinese brands after a fire tore through an industrial township in Yangon which centered around Chinese-owned factories. The fire prompted a statement by the Chinese embassy urging Myanmar authorities to punish perpetrators and protect Chinese businesses and individuals. The language of the statement angered netizens, as the cause of the fire is unconfirmed and China has not made definitive statements against the coup. Such vague wording could encourage the military to accuse protestors of arson. 

A social media campaign called #69isCancelled, which was begun on Twitter by the Milk Tea Alliance, is quickly becoming viral. This campaign calls for a boycott of Chinese products, brands, and partnerships across all industries. The number represents the first digits in bar codes for Chinese products.   

Netizens propose that peoplebuy local substitutes instead of Chinese products and avoid movies and games from China. They suggest that popular game streamers should uninstall Chinese games to reduce revenue to the country. Popular posts include photos and videos of people uninstalling the highly popular Mobile Legends, unsubscribing from publisher Tencent on Youtube, and throwing away Chinese-made devices. 

In addition, netizens are pressuring businesses affiliated with the son and daughter of coup leader Min Aung Hlaing. The son, Aung Pyae Sone, owns Azura Beach Resort, which TripAdvisor has removed from its listing. Groups including Justice For Myanmar are urging other businesses to follow suit 

This week, a major local bank came under public pressure for calling the police on customers who were withdrawing money from the bank, four  were then arrested. Netizens are angry because the individuals were not clearly committing any crime, and police violence both in the streets and against those in custody is at an all-time high. The bank is now the subject of a boycott. State media has claimed that the customers were at the bank promoting the Civil Disobedience Movement. The bank has since released a statement denying the allegations and promising to assist the detained customers. 

These actions may be a result of the pressure banks are facing from the military to reopen and turn over all of their customers’ information to state-owned or military banks, despite the fact that many bank staff have joined the CDM. Like other private banks in Myanmar, the bank in question is operating very limited services with only a handful of branches open since February. Netizens have viewed it unfavorably ever since a voice recording leaked of a meeting held between senior banking officials in which they described a plan to force employees back to work. 

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Our overall recommendations remain the same, but their priority has changed.   

Make a positive contribution: It is imperative that brands and leaders make an effort to contribute to Myanmar’s future. Brands are now expected to provide support to the protest movement and those affected by the coup, and those that stay silent or neutral may be boycotted by netizens and consumers    

There are myriad ways brands can contribute to ensure people’s basic needs are being met, including in areas of healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, we strongly recommend taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public.  Our team of consultants in Myanmar is available to provide specific suggestions on actions each brand can take.   

Support local independent media:Independent media are operating under enormous risks. They are crucial to the movement and providing everyone with factual news. We strongly advice brands to help support independent local media by advertising with them or donating directly to funds that help pay their salaries and keep them safe. Here are a few accountable fund channels that are supporting the civil disobedience movement and journalists: 

  1. https://www.isupportmyanmar.com/ 
  2. https://www.gofundme.com/f/myanmar-now-under-attack-by-military-dictatorship 
  3. https://www.mutualaidmyanmar.org/

Support your employees: Consider how to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a significant chance that many of your employees will want to participate in demonstrations, and they will expect you to support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do so may lead to backlash.      

Some supportive measures include providing paid time off, information on the best ways to protect oneself while protesting, and safety equipment for those who plan to protest goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, as well as face masks and sanitizers for virus protection.      

 Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.       

As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures with regards to their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing access to food, water, shelter, and the internet.   

Plan for disinformation attacks:  Brands should program social listening tools and media monitoring tools to pick up disinformation regarding potential risk areas such as ties to the military, statements by executives, or rumors related to corporate policy.  The sooner a disinformation attack is identified, the less difficult it will be to refute.  

11.03.2021 / Briefing #6

The people of Myanmar continue to face volatile and often violent situations day and night, as the military continues to intensify the conflict.

As we have done each week since the coup, we at Vero have gathered developments about the communications landscape and are offering recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.

Brands and influencers

Brands and influencers can no longer be bystanders on this issue. As netizens continue to employ pressure and boycotts, there are real and severe consequences for individuals and brands that appear to be aligned with the military or have not shown support for the protest movement. These boycotts tend to begin with individual groups and small networks, but many have spread into popular consciousness. Recently the app Way Way Nay (Stay Away) was created to gather boycotted companies into one list.

This week, one of the top celebrities in Myanmar was the focus of many boycotts by netizens. He is a popular singer-songwriter and actor with an international presence who has not used his platform to speak out impactfully on the movement. He also continues to retain his business collaboration with a military-owned major Myanmar bank that is included in the Way Way Nay list.

A luxury hotel and residential brand is the latest to be added to the boycott list, after netizens uncovered that the hotel is owned by former USDP politicians who support the coup. An internal HR letter has also been which orders hotel staff to continue working and stay out of political affairs.

News & Media

The military junta has revoked the licenses of five top-tier independent organizations from publishing and broadcast news: Mizzima, DVB, 7 Day News, Myanmar Now, and Khit Thit media.

7 Day News has deactivated both of their news channels, 7 Day News Journal and 7 Day TV indefinitely. Their pages can no longer be accessed on Facebook.

However, the other four news channels continue to publish news. They are making a bold move despite the high potential of targeted aggression from the military.

Mizzima has released a statement declaring that they will continue to publish news on all of their pages, platforms, and broadcast channels despite the suspension. Their office – which was not in use – was raided on March 9, but no arrests were made.

Security forces also raided Kamayut Media’s office in Yangon, arresting the organization’s editor-in-chief and co-founder. Kamayut Media is another outlet that has reported extensively on the anti-coup movement

Since the coup began, 35 journalists have been arrested while doing their jobs, 16 of whom are still being held in custody.

YouTube recently removed five channels run by military-owned television networks hosted on its platform. Their channels violated the platform’s community guidelines and laws. The channels taken down were MRTV, (Myanma Radio and Television), Myawaddy media, MWD Variety, and MWD Myanmar.

Other channels have stopped broadcasting entirely, including YTV, Fortune, MRTV Entertainment (Channel Me), and Channel K.

Brands and the movement

Global clothing brand H&M has stopped placing orders with its 45 suppliers in Myanmar due to “practical difficulties and an unpredictable situation”, after previously saying that it won’t rush into leaving. Garment workers are among those leading the general strike.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS 

While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Our overall recommendations remain the same, but their priority has changed.

Make a positive contribution: It is imperative that brands and leaders make an effort to contribute to Myanmar’s future. Brands are now expected to provide support to the protest movement and those affected by the coup, and those that stay silent or neutral may be boycotted by netizens and consumers

There are myriad ways brands can contribute to ensure people’s basic needs are being met, including in areas of healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, we strongly recommend taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public. Our team of consultants in Myanmar is available to provide specific suggestions on actions each brand can take.

Support your employees: Consider how to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a significant chance that many of your employees will want to participate in the massive demonstrations taking part in Myanmar, and they will expect you to support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do so may lead to backlash.

Means of support include providing paid time off, information on the best ways to protect oneself while protesting, and safety equipment for those who plan to protest goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, as well as face masks and sanitizers for virus protection.

Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.

As the situation in Yangon is escalating, we also advise that brands take necessary measures with regards to their teams’ safety by monitoring and providing for their access to food, water, shelter, internet.

Plan for disinformation attacks:  Brands should program social listening tools and media monitoring tools to pick up disinformation regarding potential risk area, such as ties to the military, statements by executives or rumors related to corporate policy.  The sooner brands can identify a disinformation attack, the sooner it can be corrected and halted. 

Support local independent media: Another way for brands to help is to support independent local media by advertising with them.

Advise brand ambassadors and influencers: Brands in partnerships with influencers should monitor sentiments around them and provide them with expertise on crafting their social media statements to avoid backlash.

04.03.2021 / Briefing #5

This week the people of Myanmar experienced the largest and deadliest crackdown on peaceful protestors across the country.  As of March 3, 2021 an estimated 40 deaths were recorded across the country. 

As we have done for the past four weeks, we at Vero have gathered developments and recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.  

Misinformation and Disinformation 

A chain of tea houses from Taiwan corrected misinformation spreading on social media about its ownership.  The company clarified that it originates from Taiwan and has US-based investors – and further clarified that it has no links to the military.   

A global music streaming service has also been falsely accused of having connections to family members of senior military figures.  Netizens are encouraging people to uninstall the application and give it a 1-star rating on app stores, and it has been added to the Way Way Nay (Stay Away) application that lists all military-owned or affiliated businesses in Myanmar. The service has not yet made a statement in response. 

Brands and Influencers 

Netizens continue to push back and threaten boycotts of brands connected with influencers who appear aligned with the military or have not shown support for the protest movement.  Netizens are carefully monitoring which brands are complying, and removing content created in collaboration with influencers who hold military links.  Netizens are also monitoring those brands who continue to maintain relationships and content with influencers who have fallen out of favor.  

One influencer under constant social media criticism is a lifestyle and beauty influencer whose father is apparently an ex-military official. Her silence in the first week of the coup and her father’s condemnation of CDM participants has enraged netizens, resulting in boycotts of the influencer, businesses she owns, and brands that work with her. Although she has since spoken against the military, she also continues to boast of her expensive purchases, lavish dinners, and activities outside of the movement that netizens have discovered and leaked online. Following immense pressure from netizens, a smartphone brand announced the termination of her contract as brand ambassador. 

News & media 

A total of 28 journalists who were gathering news at protests have been detained by police. The Irrawaddy News, a bilingual news outlet, has issued a statement urging that all violence against journalists must end immediately and that arrested journalists be released. They have called upon the international community to act to support Myanmar journalists. 

About two dozen independent media have come together to publish a joint statement condemning the media directive issued by the military and saying that it is illegal under the 2008 New Media Law. The statement is the first of its kind in Myanmar. As of this morning, 56 independent media publications have joined this statement expressing their conviction to continue writing, broadcasting, and reporting content and news using terms that they deem correct and ethical.  

Top-tier independent media such as 7 Day News, Frontier Myanmar, The Irrawaddy, The Voice Myanmar, Mizzima News, Myanmar Now, and DVB are among those in support of the statement.  Eleven Media, previously criticized for writing news in favor of the military junta, has also signed the statement. 

Media channels in rural areas have also supported the statement, including Kachin Waves, Mekong News, The Monywa Gazette, Myitkyina News Journal, and many more.  

All media that support the statement do so, we believe, despite the risk of retaliation or loss of their license. 

The Myanmar Times, which has suspended operations for the next 3 months after a staff revolt, is not on the list. It also does not include the notable top-tier channel The Standard Time.  

Brands and protestors 

Netizens are now calling for boycotts on brands whose staff have refused to help protestors trying to escape police crackdowns. Many protestors flee to nearby malls, restaurants, and shops to hide from the police. One beauty brand was caught in the fray when its staff shut the doors to protestors seeking shelter.  The brand later apologized. 

Netizens are encouraging the boycott of FMCG brands that have been caught selling food to security forces. They are also boycotting hospitals that are refusing to help injured protestors or shut their doors.  

Meanwhile, the largest retailer in Myanmar has continued to show support for protestors. When the crackdown began, security guards ushered protestors to hide inside the market and closed their steel gates so that the police couldn’t get in. Many netizens applauded the brand and the staff for supporting the movement and protestors since the beginning of the coup. 

Another example, a major shopping mall, is being commended for helping protestors hide on the higher floors, and netizens are asking communities to shop at these malls and stores. 

Woodside, the Australian energy company, became the latest foreign investor to pull out of Myanmar, saying that it “condemns human rights violations,” and would be demobilizing its offshore exploration drilling team in the coming weeks.  

VERO’SRECOMMENDATIONS  

While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Our overall recommendations remain the same, but their priority has changed. 

Make a positive contribution:It is imperative that brands and leaders make an effort to contribute to Myanmar’s future. Brands are now expected to provide support to the protest movement and those affected by the coup, and those that stay silent or neutral may be boycotted by netizens.   

There are myriad ways brands can contribute to ensure people’s basic needs are being met, including in areas of healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, we strongly recommend taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public.            

Plan for disinformation attacks:  Brands should program social listening tools and media monitoring tools to pick up disinformation regarding potential risk area, such as ties to the military, statements by executives or rumors related to corporate policy.  The sooner brands can identify a disinformation attack, the sooner it can be corrected and halted.  

Support local independent media:Another way for brands to help is to support independent local media by advertising with them.   

Advise brand ambassadors and influencers:Brands in partnerships with influencers should monitor sentiments around them and provide them with expertise on crafting their social media statements to avoid backlash.     

Support your employees:Consider how to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a significant chance that many of your employees will want to participate in the massive demonstrations taking part in Myanmar, and they will expect you to support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do so may lead to backlash.    

Means of support include providing paid time off, information on the best ways to protect oneself while protesting, and safety equipment for those who plan to protest goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, as well as face masks and sanitizers for virus protection.    

Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.     

 

25.02.2021 / Briefing #4

This week included the largest day of protest yet in Myanmar, on which an estimated million or more people across the country took to the streets. It was a testament to the unity of the country’s people. However, it was also a week that recorded the first deaths of protestors.

In previous weeks, numerous brands rolled out campaigns to show support for the community, but this week our monitoring shows that brands stayed mostly quiet, perhaps waiting to see how the massive protests unfolded.

Nonetheless, our expectation is that soon more brands and businesses will find ways to support the community by addressing major needs such as food security, youth education, health and wellness, and independent journalism. Second-order effects of the military coup are being felt across the country, and there is a role for the business community to play in addressing the needs they create.

So if your business or brand is actively engaging and serving the community, we would love to know about it and help you spread the word. You can email us at yangon@vero-asean.com.

As we have done for the past three weeks, we at Vero have gathered developments and recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.

Brands call for reconciliation

The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business organized a collective statement from the business community expressing their desire for a swift resolution based on “reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.” This statement – which is open for others to join – has already been signed by more than 80 Myanmar brands and multinational companies from diverse sectors.

The statement makes it clear that the interests of the business community are contrary to the recent actions by the military:

“As investors, we inhabit a ‘shared space’ with the people of Myanmar, including civil society organisations, in which we all benefit from respect for human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and association – and the rule of law. The rule of law, respect for human rights, and the unrestricted flow of information all contribute to a stable business environment.”

Vero is among the companies that signed onto the collective statement.

News & media

There are online reports that most of the staff of The Myanmar Times, the country’s English-language newspaper, have left their jobs in protest against demands by the editor-in-chief to conform to the military’s instructions in their reporting. More than a dozen journalists quit, including several of the newsroom’s leading editors, and the newspaper has announced a shutdown effective for at least three months.

Reportedly, the Tatmadaw asked The Myanmar Times to refer to them as the State Administration Council (SAC) instead of “military junta” or “military regime” and use the term “power transfer” instead of “coup”.

Despite the pressure, many media publications and journalists continue to deliver factual news to the public. Mizzima News published an open letter from the editor-in-chief in which he declared that, as the current president has not transferred power, the term “military coup” must be used to refer to the “illegitimate government”.

Most of the Myanmar Press Council (26 of 29 members) have also left their positions in defiance of the military junta trying to control and restrict their reporting. The Council was created by President U Win Myint, who is still under arrest, with the goal of acting as a liaison between government bodies, organizations, and the press. Its responsibilities include protecting freedom of speech and expression.

Social media punishment

In the past few days, netizens have mobilized to expose people who have stayed silent, supporters of the military, and anyone who has benefitted from ties to the military. In these “social media punishments,” people’s profiles, businesses, posts, and past actions are exposed online with encouragement to share and boycott them.

Some of those who have been punished have only indirect connections but did not speak out in favor of the protest movement.

Brand Happenings

One situation last week exemplifies the risks of internal company documents becoming public.

An internal document from a popular fast-food franchise was leaked onto social media which listed guidelines for staff regarding protestors. The document clearly stated that all staff must be wary of protestors, must call police immediately if protestors come into the store, and should take photos and videos as evidence if protestors destroy property.

The document quickly became viral, and netizens took to social media to condemn and announce a boycott of the company. Soon after the document was posted, the brand released a statement of apology, but netizens say their trust is not so easily regained.

Meanwhile, another brand has taken to providing discounts to protestors. Loi Sam Sip, a Thai-fusion restaurant in Yangon, announced that the company is supporting protestors and CDM participants by offering 20 percent off the price of meals.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS

While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Therefore, our recommendations to brands remain the same:

  • Plan for disinformation attacks: Brands should program social listening tools and media monitoring tools to pick up disinformation regarding potential risk area, such as ties to the military, statements by executives or rumors related to corporate policy. The sooner brands can identify a disinformation attack, the sooner it can be corrected and halted
  • Prepare positive Contributions: Brand leaders should look into how they can make a positive contribution to Myanmar’s future. There are myriad ways to ensure people’s basic needs are being met. There are also opportunities for brands and companies to contribute in areas such as healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, consider taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public.  
  • Support local independent media: Another way for brands to help is to support independent local media by advertising with them. 
  • Advise brand ambassadors and influencers: Brands in partnerships with influencers should monitor sentiments around them and provide them with expertise on crafting their social media statements to avoid backlash.   
  • Support your employees: Consider how to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a significant chance that many of your employees will want to participate in the massive demonstrations taking part in Myanmar, and they will expect you to support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do so may lead to backlash.  
      • Means of support include providing paid time off, information on the best ways to protect oneself while protesting, and safety equipment for those who plan to protest goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, as well as face masks and sanitizers for virus protection.  
      • Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.  

17.02.2021 / Briefing #3

Tensions remain high in Myanmar this week.  Protests continue on the streets and through the civil disobedience movement, despite potential for violence, legal threats, massive business disruption, and frequent internet shutdowns. 

To help support our clients, the business community, and the communications industry in Myanmar, we at Vero have gathered developments of the last week, as well as our updated recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.

Brands and Taxation

Netizens report strong public support for withholding taxes as a means of protest. This includes employees urging employers not to deduct income tax and social security payments from their payroll, as well as consumers pressuring brands to stop paying commercial tax (aka CT, or national sales tax).

Netizens are urging a variety of companies to stop paying CT. Documented cases of this include an international fast-food franchise, an online transport platform, and a food delivery platform.

Netizens report that a fast-food chain is receiving negative backlash after one of their staff asked customers to pay CT. The customer posted about the incident on Facebook, and people are now urging the public to boycott the brand. One of the customers also sent a message about their unwillingness to pay tax, and the brand replied that they have already instructed all their branches in Myanmar to sell without including national sales tax.

Brands Gain Support

The group of brands that have gained favor among protestors for their political stances grew this week. Netizens are carefully monitoring how brands react to the coup and new military directives. From banking to retail to tech to food, many brands are responding constructively, and netizens are sure to call out those that are not making their positions clear.

In the telecom sector, netizens express support for Telenor and encourage the purchase of Telenor SIM cards because the company has been transparent and forthright about sharing directives from the Military government.

Netizens are encouraging people to keep their money at CB Bank or AYA Banks. Neither bank has released a statement on the current situation or the protests, but there is widespread online content about both banks encouraging their employees to join the Civil Disobedience Movement. 

Netizens are encouraging people to shop more at retail chain City Mart since they stopped selling brands linked to the military.

Both Grab and Food Panda announced free delivery for all orders to customers, discounts, vouchers, and coupons as well as free onboarding services, and a zero percent commission fee for the first month to all new vendors. For Grab Food bikers, the company said they will top up an additional 50% in earnings for every completed delivery. Grab also said the company remains committed to supporting Myanmar in creating income opportunities for partners and ensuring their platform provides safe, convenient, and reliable services. Meanwhile, Netizens are encouraging both brands to cease payments of the commercial tax.

Brands taking this approach may conclude that in the short term, while emotions are running high, it would be easier to absorb potential commercial tax liability themselves and deal with the consequences at a later date, rather than provoke customer anger and put their employees at risk.

Netizens and Nations

Netizens are also criticizing other countries for the tone of their messaging.  China and many Chinese brands are facing negative sentiment and threats of boycott based on what Myanmar netizens view as moves by China to support the Tatmadaw.

There is also a smaller wave of negative online sentiment towards Singapore, because, according to Myanmar netizens, Singapore did not strongly condemn the military coup during a special session of the UN Council on Human Rights. A photo leaked online purports to show a scorecard indicating weak anti-coup sentiment from Singapore. There is also a common belief among netizens that tech companies from Singapore are supplying equipment to the Tatmadaw. As a result, Netizens are calling for a boycott of Singaporean brands.

While brands from some countries may have limitations on how much support they can provide directly to Myanmar‘s protest movement, they can still try to make a positive difference by collaborating with Myanmar organizations that may need help, such as those dedicated to healthcare, youth education, and food assistance.

When COVID-19 first struck Southeast Asia, some Chinese brands excelled at diplomacy via mask and hand sanitizer distribution. Theirs is a lesson worth remembering in Myanmar today.

Misinformation and Disinformation

At least one brand we are aware of was falsely linked to the military. Their targeting could have been deliberate or a mistake, but it’s crucial that brands stay aware and monitor for misinformation and disinformation – and that they are ready to set the record straight. One good way to prevent disinformation is for brands and companies to use their communication capabilities to share information on a regular basis, thereby growing their audience’s trust. When brands stay silent for weeks or months, then try to counteract misinformation or disinformation in a crisis, the response is muted and it is difficult to correct the narrative.  

Influencers and Protest

Some influencers who took an anti-coup/pro-democracy stance early are now finding stronger support from consumers.

  • Eindra Kyaw Zin inspires support for any brand she works with, which are largely in the health, skincare, and cosmetics industries.
  • There is broad support for celebrities Paing Phyo Thu and Na Gyi, both of whom have actively participated in protests. Na G is a film director and Paing Phyo Thu is an academy award-winning actress. They also encourage people to participate in CDM, and they donate to organizations that help staff who are doing CDM.
  • In the beauty category, influencers including May Oo Maung, May Oo, Kyaw Ye Tun, Nyi Nyi Maung, Khin San Win are gaining support for sharing their views in support of the protest movement.
  • Netizens are supporting the SG ice cream sandwich business of Paing Takhon, a well-known actor who has become a top supporter of the anti-coup movement and urges his international fans to support democracy in Myanmar. He is also currently the brand ambassador of OPPO, Sunkist Myanmar, and MG Myanmar.

Other influencers have been criticized on social media and lost followers for their slow or inadequate responses to the coup, though some of those have been able to recover via strong supportive statements.

News Media

Netizens are criticizing one major private news organization for their coverage, based on perceived bias in favor of the coup. The netizens are sharing negative sentiments about the tone of the coverage, as well as the fact that this news organization was the only one to share a live broadcast of the junta press conference.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar news media continues to operate, and they appear able to report most news related to the coup. News organizations are covering protests daily across the country, publishing interviews with NLD members, reporting on statements issued by the military, and documenting violence.

One of the many pressures that journalists are under is the legitimate fear of arrest during night raids by security forces. The military has also issued two statements to news media outlets that put them under legal threat. The first statement announces that media cannot use the phrases “military coup” or “illegal government” in their reporting, and the second states that they must not criticize only one party i.e., the military. Violations of both could result in imprisonment, but this threat does not seem to have been carried out thus far. Journalists and news media outlets continue to use these phrases and report on what has been happening daily.

Facebook, published a statement outlining its policies, which include to “significantly reduce the distribution of all content on Facebook Pages and profiles run by the Myanmar Military (“Tatmadaw”) that have continued to spread misinformation” and “indefinitely [suspend] the ability for Myanmar government agencies to send content removal requests to Facebook.”

However, many netizens – and journalists, in particular – say that they are worried that Facebook conversations are being tracked, so they are shifting to apps such as Telegram, Zello, and Signal for messaging while continuing to use Facebook and Twitter to access information and spread news.

Netizen Boycotts and Advertising

Netizens are criticizing and threatening boycotts of brands that broadcast advertisements on state-owned channels MWD & MRTV.  This includes some global brands that have responded on social media by denying advertising contracts with these channels.

VERO RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BRANDS

Updating our recommendations made last week, we advise the following: 

  • Positive Contributions: Brand leaders look into how they can make a positive contribution to Myanmar’s future. There are myriad ways to ensure people’s basic needs are being met. There are also opportunities for brands and companies to contribute in areas such as healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, consider taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public. 
  • Monitor reputations closely: Misinformation and disinformation threats are persistent, and companies and brands must monitor their reputations closely for both unintentional inaccuracies and deliberate attacks. Risk areas include products and brands, market-related news, and personnel. Misinformation continues to circulate about brands with potential links to the military. Clarification of independence is crucial.   
  • Support local independent media: Another way for brands to help is to support independent local media by advertising with them.
  • Advise brand ambassadors and influencers: Brands in partnerships with influencers should monitor sentiments around them and provide them with expertise on crafting their social media statements to avoid backlash.  
  • Support your local employees: Consider how to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a significant chance that many of your employees will want to participate in the massive demonstrations taking part in Myanmar, and they will expect you to support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do so may lead to backlash. 
    • Means of support include providing paid time off, information on the best ways to protect oneself while protesting, and safety equipment for those who plan to protest – such as goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, as well as face masks and sanitizers for virus protection. 
    • Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in-person and online.  

10.02.2021 / Briefing #2

It has been a dramatic and challenging week in Myanmar, as protests and civil disobedience have expanded across the country despite the military government’s imposition of martial law. As of yesterday, in defiance of a ban stated by the military, over 1 million people protested in the streets of Yangon alone, facing police with water cannons, rubber bullets, and live rounds.

Protests have also erupted across the country in Nay Pyi Daw, Mandalay, Bago, Myingyan, Pathein, Dawei, Myawaddy, Myeik, Hpakan, Mawlamyeine, Taunggyi, Hakha, Magway, Pyin Oo Lwin, Mawgyun, Monya, and Mogok. The International Commission of Jurists has declared the coup a violation of both international law and the Myanmar constitution, and The UN Human Rights Council could decide on sanctions to impose on Myanmar when it convenes this Friday.

For those doing business in the country, the situation is both critically important and somewhat difficult to follow, which is exacerbated by internet limitations and shutdowns. To help support our clients, the business community, and the communications industry in Myanmar, we at Vero have gathered some of the most important developments of the last week, as well as our updated recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

Businesses are taking a stand

  • Many small and medium-sized businesses are taking a stand by refusing to sell any products linked to the military, including cigarettes and beer. They are becoming more active, which has prompted a discussion on where larger brands stand.
  • Most major companies have been silent and are monitoring the situation, but we expect that the public may begin targeting them with negative online pressure – and potentially boycotts – soon.
  • Razer co-founder Lim Kang made news when he said he will pull his investment out of MEHL.
  • Japanese beer company Kirin has also exited its partnership with the military-owned company MEHL.
  • Foreign Telecommunication operators Telenor and Ooredo are being pressured on social media to stop complying with the army’s regular requests for internet cuts and restrictions.
  • Brands communicating promotional commercial content received backlash, including an foreign beer brand, a fast food pizza brand, and a mobile gaming company, all of which posted regular content unrelated to politics in the past 48 hours and received negative feedback from followers.

KOLs are issuing statements of support

  • Influencers – especially those with international reach & presence – are now expected to use their platforms to spread awareness of what is happening and encourage their followers to join the anti-coup movement.
  • Some influencers are being called out for not showing support sooner:
      • A lifestyle & beauty social media influencer made an initial statement that was ambiguous and looked as though it was only due to self-preservation. As a result, she appears to have been removed as Brand Ambassador by an international FMCG company.
      • One content creator’s lack of a statement caused negative comments among his followers, and an alcohol brand requested that he hide content he had made for them on his page. After he posted a video in support of the movement, the request was dropped.
      • A sports influencer initially faced backlash, but has recovered after making statements that clearly condemn the coup. This influencer made an initial statement on Feb 3 that seemed to lack conviction, during a time when other celebrities and influencers were making strong statements against the military. His follow-up statement further angered people, as he still did not outwardly condemn the coup. Soon after, both two brands halted their partnerships with him. The influencer finally posted a third statement Monday night with a strong stance against the military, which seems to have satisfied his followers, though it is unclear whether he has regained his partnerships.

More civil workers have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)

  • In Mandalay, firefighters joined the CDM and protested
  • In Yangon, two rectors of the country’s top university of medicine were reported to quit their jobs and joined the CDM
  • Yesterday KBZ banks across the country were closed as many of their employees joined the CDM and protests
  • Employees of Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation and Yangon City Development Committee joined the CDM and protests
  • Teachers across the country are leaving their jobs to join the CDM
  • 71 engineers were reported to resign from military-owned telecommunication company MyTel
  • Employees from the railway department have taken to the streets and joined the CDM
  • A Gofundme page to support the CDM has gone viral and garnered over 60K USD

As of today, foreign governments have been individually engaging, including:

  • On Saturday (6 Feb), the British Embassy in Myanmar expressed concern over how the shutdown may potentially be used against the people of Myanmar. “The U.K. has been clear that the state of emergency must not be used as a smokescreen for a crackdown on rights and freedoms,” the mission tweeted.
  • The US Embassy in Myanmar also tweeted on Saturday (6 Feb) with a similar sentiment to the UK Embassy.
  • Pope Francis, who visited Myanmar in 2017, expressed “solidarity with the people” in clear opposition to the coup and asks the country’s leaders to serve the common good and seek “democratic” harmony at his Sunday (7 Feb) address in St. Peter’s Square.
  • Australia‘s foreign minister says Canberra is “deeply concerned” about reports that an Australian national has been detained in Myanmar, days after a military coup. Local media identified the Australian as Sean Turnell, an economic adviser to Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • As of Tuesday, 9th, the New Zealand government has formally suspended ties with Myanmar to ban visits from military leaders.

The communication landscape has been deeply affected

  • Following the initial Facebook shutdown, many people in Myanmar turned to Twitter to share updates with each other and the outside world, often using the hashtag #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar
  • After a country-wide shutdown of the internet last weekend, it is currently back up and running, but with targeted restrictions on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter.
  • Those platforms are still widely used, mainly thanks to VPNs. Some VPN providers such as NordVPN have even raised their paywall for people in Myanmar.
  • Journalists and many others are buying Singaporean and Thai sim cards to access the internet in the event of another blackout.

VERO’S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BRANDS

Updating our recommendations made last week, we advise the following:

  • As we enter the second week of the military coup, the public’s anger, fear, and passion has never been stronger. As more brands, SMEs, civil workers, and influencers join the movement, multinational brands will be expected to take a stance as well.
      • While we suggest continuing to pause all campaign activities, it’s also important to be proactive.
      • Multinational brands can put out a statement that is not political but which reassures stakeholders, consumers, and employees that they will be supported during this crisis.
      • If executive leadership is aligned, it may be worth taking a more explicit political stance by openly supporting the protest movement and condemning the military coup.
  • More than ever, exercise care and compassion for your audiences in every form of communication
  • If you have an employee presence in Myanmar, study how you want to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a high chance that many of your employees will want to participate in the massive demonstrations taking part in Myanmar, and they will expect you support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do say may cause backlash. Means of support include providing paid time-off, information on the best ways to protect themselves while protesting, and safety equipment (goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, plus face masks and sanitizers for virus protection) for those who plan to protest.
  • If you have an employee presence in Myanmar, you should also share internal guidelines with them on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions offline and online.
  • Brands should continue to vigilantly monitor their reputations and have crisis response plans ready to protect them. Misinformation continues to circulate about brands with potential links to the military. Clarification of your independence is crucial.
  • Brands in partnerships with influencers should monitor sentiments around them and provide them with expertise on crafting their social media statements to avoid backlash.
  • We advise brands to proactively start mapping crisis scenarios and developing contingency plans for each. Possible situations include an increase in pressure on brands to take a stance, or a situation where your brand’s ties to the military (or lack thereof) are incorrectly portrayed in the press and on social media.
  • Brands and organizations that can provide services to the country’s people which are currently lacking should seek ways to help.

04.02.2021 / Briefing #1

Earlier this week, life in Myanmar changed dramatically for the country’s nearly 55 million people as the military imposed a state of emergency and formally took power, detaining the leaders of Myanmar’s governing party, which had won a landslide election in November according to election observers. The airports were temporarily closed. The Internet was restricted and continues to be unstable. Banks paused their services.

Many people in Myanmar are now living every moment with heavy hearts and justified anxiety. It is a somber time in what is normally a vibrant country, with the possibility of escalation a constant source of dread.

The team members and clients of our agency office in Yangon are dealing with this new reality, and we feel it is our responsibility to provide some measure of guidance. To that end, we’re sharing the following communication guidelines for all brands and agencies active in Myanmar:

  • More than ever, exercise care and compassion for your audiences in every form of communication.
  • If your brand has an employee presence in Myanmar, focus your time and resources on helping them navigate the current crisis. Provide platforms for them to connect in the event of further outages and outline your position with regards to current events as well as you can.
  • We suggest pausing most standard campaigns for at least two weeks. Now is not the time to focus on commercial activity, and appeals to do so risk coming across as tone-deaf.
  • Brands should be vigilant about monitoring their reputations and have a plan ready to protect them. Already, there is misinformation circulating about brands with potential links to the military. Clarification of your independence is crucial.
  • Brands should also review and monitor all current and past links to state-owned enterprises and assess how these links might affect their reputations.
  • Brands should carefully consider, on a case-by-case basis, what they can and cannot say to their people, stakeholders, and customers. Many feel that brands should take a stance, and in some cases they may be right, but each brand’s circumstances are unique. On such a critical issue, any stance you take must be one you’re prepared to back up in practice.
  • Brands and organizations that can provide services to the country’s people which are currently lacking should seek ways to help.

Anyone expecting definitive answers about what to do next will have a difficult time. It’s a fluid situation that needs to be constantly monitored. We’ve talked to journalists and a number of leading media, and they too are looking for guidance. Answers will come, but we cannot predict how or when, just as we could not predict that this would happen when it did.

However, there are some things that are very clear today:

  • Business as usual is on hold. People in Myanmar are fully aware of this, but for those overseas, we want to emphasize the need to take stock of the situation and be ready to respond.
  • The Internet is currently operational, but it is unstable and there is the potential for further shutdowns.
  • On early Thursday February 4th, access to Facebook was blocked on local internet providers. Although the new government indicated that this would only hold until Feb. 7th, we assume that it might stay blocked longer. This announces a new status-quo for communications in Myanmar, where a political power can now decide to open or close the country’s most popular communication and information channel.
  • Access to banks and ATMs was disrupted on February 1, but they have been operating normally from February 2 onwards. Like the internet, they could be targeted again.
  • The military has announced that there will be no domestic or international flights until May 31, and all flight permissions have been revoked.
  • Local media is not fully reporting current events, fearing government backlash. Expect a delay in news of new developments. Journalists and influencers are at risk of being charged. On February 2nd, it was reported that Information Ministry released a statement warning media and citizens to not spread false rumors or incite unrest.
  • Many online influencers are speaking out with political messaging. There is a civil disobedience movement gaining momentum on Facebook (the most widely used internet portal in Myanmar). As of Tuesday, 2/02, it is reported that 28 hospitals in 18 cities announced a strike. On Wednesday 03/02, it was reported that 71 engineers collectively resigned from a state-owned telecom company. It is also reported that the National Health Laboratory (NHL) and the Department of Food and Drug Administration will also join the campaign. As the NHL is the main testing center for Covid-19, the testing process may be disrupted.
  • International journalists are still able to report on what they see, mainly via Twitter. Turn to local representatives of global press agencies for regular updates.
  • There is reportedly the possibility that the official social media communication channels of the overthrown government have been taken over by competing political parties and are now being used against them.

We at Vero are closely monitoring the current situation as it develops and anticipating further challenges, even as we hope for a positive outcome in the long-term that respects the desires of the vast majority of people in Myanmar. Meanwhile, if you have questions, we are here to provide support and information.

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