On 30 March, CNN’s chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward tweeted out a photo of her boarding pass to Yangon. The image set off a wave of fear in Myanmar that the military, which staged a coup two months earlier and has killed over 700 people since, would use this visit to broadcast military propaganda to millions of viewers around the world. Thousands of Myanmar social media users began tweeting at Ward and CNN to express their concern that the arrangement CNN had made with the military to gain entry into the country would undermine the real story.

Driven in part by this fear, Myanmar civilians intentionally placed themselves in the CNN crew’s path, staging impromptu protests and insisting on speaking to Ward despite her warnings that doing so under the watch of military minders put them in danger. Allegra Mendelson, a journalist for the Southeast Asia Globe who also participated in this military-organised trip, said during a webinar afterward that civilians at a Yangon market kept coming up to the journalists and saying: “Please don’t listen to the military. Please tell our side of the story.” 

Ward was aware of Myanmar people’s concern that she would become an unwitting agent of the military junta. She even liked multiple tweets to this effect. But instead of seeing her presence as creating a problem so dire that Myanmar people would risk their lives to correct it, she interpreted their sacrifice as proof of the importance of her visit. 

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Aye Min Thant

Aye Min Thant is a Burmese-American journalist who has covered business, politics and conflict in Myanmar, Thailand and the United States. Aye holds degrees in gender studies, anthropology and Asian studies. They won a Pulitzer Prize in 2019 as part of the Reuters team covering the Rohingya crisis and its aftermath.