The Union Election Commission (UEC) has amended guidelines for journalists covering Burma’s Nov. 8 general election, easing but not scrapping a plan to circumscribe reporters’ movements on election day.
The original guidelines, laid out on Aug. 3, stated that all registered media outlets could apply to have a maximum of three journalists accredited to cover voting in a given township, prompting concern from press advocates that the location-specific credentialing might not allow for reporting outside its point of issue.
After Burma’s Interim Press Council raised objection to the potential limits this might have put on the jurisdiction that journalists were allowed to roam within, the UEC extended the accreditation area to the district level, and will ask members of the media to register with the district election subcommission in which they intend to report on election day.
Kyaw Min Swe, a spokesman for the Interim Press Council, said the change should make journalists’ lives easier on Nov. 8.
“Despite the UEC’s instruction, because there could misunderstandings or difficulties at the township EC [election subcommission], we suggested that the UEC extend it to the district level to avoid such difficulties,” he told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
It was not clear whether reporters would be limited to only one election day accreditation.
The move to broaden the scope of accreditation will allow journalists more room to operate, with most districts in Burma comprised of several townships. If enforced in Rangoon, however, the accreditation scheme would effectively leave three-quarters of the city and outlying areas, in administrative terms, off-limits to reporters, potentially presenting difficult decisions for media outlets, the majority of which are based in the commercial capital.
Rangoon is divided administratively into four districts: Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western.
According to Kyaw Min Swe, accredited journalists will also be allowed to enter polling station compounds on election day, something not permitted during the country’s 2010 general election or a 2012 by-election.
“When journalists apply for the accreditation document, the UEC said their district electoral bodies will prepare to issue the document within the same day,” the press council spokesman said, though that guarantee was not included in a UEC announcement of the revised press guidelines released on Wednesday.
An additional amendment to the guidelines for journalists reporting the election removed a vaguely worded provision potentially granting the Ministry of Information broad power to dictate additional measures that journalists would be expected to follow.
The original Aug. 3 notification said in its appendix that journalists applying for accreditation would have to agree to “respect the existing laws, bylaws and [any additional] instructions deemed necessary and imposed by the Ministry of Information.” Wednesday’s text does not include the Ministry of Information empowerment clause, though journalists will be expected to agree to respect “media ethics,” including those laid out in a set of election reporting guidelines issued by the Interim Press Council, and honor voters’ right to a secret ballot.
Kyaw Min Swe urged journalists intending to cover the historic poll to beef up on the UEC rules and regulations in place, and acquaint themselves with the press council’s election reporting guidelines.
Any journalist who feels their right to report on the election has been infringed upon in any way has recourse to file their grievance with the Complaint Committee for Journalists, an as yet unformed body that will be stood up soon, Kyaw Min Swe said.
The UEC is also responsible for accrediting civil society groups as election observers at polling stations across the country.
Nyunt Tin, a UEC director dealing with the domestic observers, told The Irrawaddy that the commission has issued accreditations to hundreds of people from seven civil society groups that had so far applied for recognition since early August.
“For the CSO election monitors and observers, the UEC scrutinizes them to determine whether they are free from party-politics [nonpartisan]. Then, we issue the document within a few days,” he said.