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Myanmar or Burma?
The recent violent crackdown on anti-government protests has thrust Myanmar back into the spotlight and with it the question of what news organisations should call the country.
Reuters has called it Mynamar since 1998, when we switched from using Burma. At the same time we altered our style on Rangoon, the country’s main city, to Yangon. The changes have long been unpopular, particularly with exiled pro-democracy protesters. They argue that accepting the ruling junta’s 1989 decision to change the English version of the country’s name is legitimising the military authorities, who have ruled since a 1962 coup d’etat. The junta refused to accept the victory of The National League for Democracy, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, in elections held in 1990 and since then has vigorously quelled political protest. Reuters is supporting “an illegal coup” by calling the country Myanmar, say readers who have emailed us recently.
Renaming places is always fraught with controversy. Reuters has no political agenda and seeks to use language that is neutral and accurate. We switched to Myanmar when the term became widely used, almost a decade after the military rulers made the change. They did so, they said, to distance themselves from the colonial-era term Burma and to bring the English-language name of the country closer to how it sounds in the Burmese language. Reuters has no view on the merits of that argument. When we changed we noted that the United Nations had switched to Myanmar, as had the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations, and that Myanmar was becoming common usage.
Most international news organisations use Myanmar, including Agence France Presse, Associated Press, The International Herald Tribune, The Straits Times and the South China Morning Post. Some, such as the New York Times, say “Myanmar, formerly known as Burma,” while others say “Myanmar, also known as Burma.” British newspapers prefer Burma.