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Myanmar or Burma?

By Sean Maguire
October 23, 2007

nagai1.jpgThe 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 PressThe 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.

The United States government and the British government refuse to call the country Myanmar, in an expressly political gesture of support for opponents of the military leadership.     


When this topic was last dealt with in this blog, no mention was made of whether or not Reuters has presence in Myanmar and if this has some effect on which name is preferred, and I wondered it already back then. It was omitted this time as well. BBC does not have presence there and they call it Burma, which creates the impression that they are ‘free’ to choose the name they use, whereas Reuters and the other news agencys mentioned in the entry probably have at least locals working for them in the country, in which case more cautious approach would be needed in order to maintain that presence and guarantee the safety of the staff. So, I was just wondering if that had anything to do with the name you choose to use and if it does, why it is not addressed openly?

Posted by Susanna K. | Report as abusive

Certainly anyone shall address any person (individual or corporate) the way how that’s person declared. It is wonderful that country kicking out the name which criminal British colonialists stamped on millions citizens of Maynmar!

Posted by Vyazemsky | Report as abusive

It is always an enlightening approach to give a people the name they choose for themselves.
Those in opposition, clearly state their reasons, which may not have anything to do with a people’s right.

Posted by Eduardo | Report as abusive

The US, The UK, Australia and New Zealand have never recognized the name, “Myanmar.”

Your logic reminds me of teenager logic – “But everybody’s doing it!” A parent would then say, “If everybody jumped off the roof would you do it?”

Posted by David M | Report as abusive

The majority of people living in Rhodesia refer to their country as Zimbabwe. We accept this even though the ruler of the country since it took that name is a tyrant.

The majority of people living in Burma refer to their country as Myanmar, even though etc. It’s time to follow the people’s wishes and use the name Myanmar.

Posted by Lindsey F | Report as abusive

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