Foreign Press Visa Curbs Not Tied to Rohingya Reporting: Ye Htut

Myanmar, Burma, The Irrawaddy, media freedom, Ye Htut, Ministry of Information, visa restrictions, Arakan State, Rakhine, Rohingya, press

A worker arranges pages of the International Herald Tribune, which was printed for the first time in Burma, in Rangoon on Sept. 23, 2013. (Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun)

RANGOON — Burma is retightening its stranglehold on journalists to rein in negative coverage, but new restrictions on foreign journalists traveling to the country for reporting have “nothing to do” with international news stories about violence against Muslims and stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Arakan State, the presidential spokesman said on Monday.

Unlike during the decades of military rule when most foreign journalists were forbidden entry, the government over the past few years has granted journalists carrying foreign passports visas that would allow them to enter the country several times over the span of three to six months to report.

However, more recently it has issued journalists visas allowing only a single entry and a one-month stay, while denying entry altogether to a Time magazine reporter who wrote a cover story about a radical Buddhist monk linked to violence against Muslims.

Ye Htut, who regularly uses his Facebook page to announce government decisions, on Sunday wrote on Facebook that Time reporter Hannah Beech was denied a visa to attend a conference this week organized by the Hawaii-based East-West Center as her presence could lead to “unwanted consequences”. He did not elaborate.

While speaking on Monday at the opening of the East-West Center’s International Media Conference in Rangoon, Ye Htut said the change in visa rules came about after authorities learned that some 100 journalists had been working inside Burma for a year without informing the Ministry of Information, joining the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Myanmar or being employed by a news bureau.

“Our visa revisions have nothing to do with international news agencies reporting on the Du Chi Yar Tan violence,” Ye Htut said, referring to the alleged killing of at least 40 stateless Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State, which was first reported by foreign media despite official denials. “We know we cannot control media in the digital age.”

Since June 2012, the religious conflict across Burma has killed at least 240 people and displaced more than 140,000—most of them Rohingya in Arakan.

The government expelled Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from Arakan over accusations it is biased toward the Rohingya, and gave the green light to draft controversial laws that critics say are discriminatory.

After rights group Fortify Rights released a report last month that used leaked government documents to show systematic discrimination against the Rohingya, Ye Htut retorted that he refused to “comment on baseless accusations from a Bengali lobby group.”

Burma has come a long way since the days of the military dictatorship when every song, book, cartoon, news story and piece of art required approval by censors working for a board known as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division.

This direct media censorship was abolished in August 2012, but challenges such as pervasive self-censorship remain.

Ye Htut insisted that Burma’s much-lauded reforms, including media reforms that are being increasingly questioned, are “irreversible,” and that foreign reporters hired to work in Burma for news agencies with bureaus in the country could still receive six-month visas.

“So it doesn’t mean a rollback of the reform process but something like an adjustment,” he told the audience of journalists.

“There is no turning back. The only way is moving forward. … Yes, during the last year we made mistakes. We’re not perfect,” he said. “But we have a clear vision of the new Myanmar. We have reform strategy and most importantly we have the political will to implement it.”

Still, concerned national and international media point to the arrest of journalists for disclosing “state secrets,” the selective barring of media from press events, alleged interference with reporting and the visa restrictions.

“They are currently writing many laws including publication laws and broadcast laws,” Thiha Saw, a veteran journalist who edits the English-language Myanma Freedom Daily, told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “More laws mean more control.”

2 Responses to Foreign Press Visa Curbs Not Tied to Rohingya Reporting: Ye Htut

  1. No one believed like that. But we all believe that it is because of bogus arrest at chemical weapon factory incident. We do not want from the regime why they change the policy. Whatever they say does not matter at all. No one trusts this regime.

  2. When there was no any problem during the time of democratic government like UN and U Ba Swe in Arakan region. The day dictators ruled the country many problems came to existance. Especially in Arakan region many of the times Muslims has to run away from their own land to East Pakistan and now Bangladesh. It must consider waht is the reasons behind.
    The mojority Buddhist do not want to share jobs opportunity and natural resources to Muslims as well as political power, at the samw time Arakanese Buddhists those recently migrated from Bangladesh Awakyunt want to loot Muslims land and properties so their leaders create communal violance from time to time in Arakan region. Real Arakanese Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan do not have any problem as they are living side by side since the centuries. “The word Rohingya was clearly written in the book of Mrauk-oo period and also foreign scholar openly sent message to the court of Ava in Myanmar histroy.”Therefore
    Bama leaders U Nu, the first Prime Minister of Burma ( Myanmar ) and Brig.General Aung Gyi, the then Vice Cheif of Staff of Burma Arm Forces
    declared thge peoples of Buthidaung and Maungdaw area were called Rohingya. Franckly speaking the word Rohingya is not and invented word, because All Mrohaung natives including both Buddhists and Muslims are called ROHINGYAS in those days.

    Now hatred is creatred by extra-nationalists of Arakanese Buddhists group led by RNDP party just for their benefits of interest and political power and in long run to saperate Arakan from Myanmar mainl;and and establish a new kingdom. It has to be very careful for the stability of Myanmar in general. This is a big poison for Myanmar leaders to think hundred times before making any problems to Muslims those are living peacefully in the country since the centuries as good citizens and the son of the soil. Muslims are loyal to Bama kings and also till to day. Muslims loves peace and justice.

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