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Dancing with Dictators: a very problematic publisher

By: Phoenix J Posted: February-05-2012 in
MEDIA MAYHEM: Ross Dunkley
Phoenix J

“Jinxed” is how the Australian media described Dancing with Dictators, a documentary film about Southeast Asia’s most controversial newspaper man, when it was canned at the 11th hour during last year’s Sydney film festival.

When Phnom Penh Post and Myanmar Times publisher Ross Dunkley agreed to allow filmmakers to follow in his footsteps for an exposé on how the foreign media fares under one of the world’s most repressive regimes, few outside his immediate circle could have imagined what was to come.

In November 2010, before the raw footage was even complete, Australian filmmakers Hugh Piper and Helen Barrow were arrested and slung unceremoniously out of the country following Myanmar’s first elections in 20 years. Three months later, in the mother
of all follow-ups, Dunkley himself – the son of a convicted cattle rustler – was arrested and imprisoned on charges of sexual assault.

The trial that followed was immediately seized upon by the international media as one of the ‘free press’ versus a Machiavellian dictatorship. Behind the scenes of the Myanmar Times, widely decried as a government mouthpiece, a vicious power struggle was taking place between Dunkley and his junta- backed business partner.

But when allegations surfaced that he’d been arrested for beating up a Yangon prostitute, sources closer to home weren’t quite so quick to dismiss their gravity. Dunkley, a notoriously hard-living philanderer who boasted to a senior Post executive in 2009 that he’d contractually obliged a local prostitute to call him “Master” at all times, is usually far from shy about his peccadilloes.

It was with uncharacteristic reticence then that the man who spent nearly seven weeks locked up in Yangon’s Insein prison be- fore being released on bail told Radio Australia that he didn’t want to comment on the case too much because there was
“a game going on behind the scenes” and politics was an ugly business.

The media, it seems, can be equally ugly. Before their premature ejection, Piper and Bar- row successfully captured the prelude to Dunkley’s arrest. “We were quite careful as to what we did with our material,” Piper told The Australian. “We had worked out ways to get it out. You can download, make back-ups. If we couldn’t do that, then it would be a different story.”

As it is, the story is given an undeniable edge by Dunkley’s imprisonment and trial, both included in the feature-length documentary due to screen at Meta House on February 24 from 7pm to 9pm. “It was certainly a huge blow for him, but a story is a story,” Piper has said. Just re- member, folks: there are at least two sides to every story...


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This article was 1st published in The Advisor - All back issues are available as downloads here

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