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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

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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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