Access Limited for Journalists at Asean Summit

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 11 November 2014

NAYPYIDAW — The number of journalists attending the 25th Asean Summit in Naypyidaw is expected to reach a record high, but reporters said access is severely limited due to “tight security.”

Myo Myint Thaung, chief editor of the ministry-backed Myanmar News Agency, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that more than 1,300 media professionals have applied for access, far exceeding the number of journalists present at the last summit held in May.

“We expect that there will be at least 1,200 journalists in attendance from all over the world,” he said, “but so far more than 1,300 people have registered, which is three times more than at the previous summit.”

A total of 165 local and 801 foreign journalists are expected to attend the summit and related meetings, as well as 351 media delegates, he said.

The 25th Asean Summit will be held from Nov. 12-13 in Burma’s capital city, Naypyidaw. It is the second such summit held in Burma during the country’s chairmanship of the 10-member regional bloc. The previous summit, held in May, hosted only about 400 journalists, both local and foreign.

Reporters from Japan, South Korea and the United States will make up a majority of the journalists present. Media professionals from all other Asean member states and dialogue partners will also attend.

Media interest is high due to the number of high-profile attendees at the summit, which include US President Barack Obama, Thai Premier Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Indian Premier Narendra Modi.

Some meetings will also be attended by representatives of China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.

The Asean Summit and related meetings will take place in the Myanmar International Convention Center One in Naypyidaw, where many of the country’s few five-star hotels were constructed since the capital was relocated in 2005.

Two media centers have been erected in and around the convention center to facilitate visiting journalists, each equipped with about 100 desktop computers and Wi-Fi Internet service.

While Naypyidaw has made some efforts to accommodate the influx of reporters, Myo Myint Thuang said that, “there will be some restrictions for journalists this time, because security is very tight.”

Journalists will not be permitted to roam around the convention grounds freely, he said; press will have access to some meetings, the media center and the food court.

Limited access will be offered for certain events including the Asean leaders’ photo opportunity and gala dinner. Despite the sharp increase in press attendance, access will be much more limited than it was in May, he said.

“This is the last summit [during Burma’s chairmanship], that’s why security is very tight and we can’t allow journalists to go around the building grounds,” Myo Myint Thaung said.

Khin Soe Win, Rangoon Bureau Chief of Voice of America’s Burmese service, said that access restrictions are already posing problems for reporters as they are only authorized to meet with delegates in official media centers.

“We want comments from each delegate right after the meetings, we’re on a news deadline,” she said. “How can we inform our listeners if we can’t get comments from our leaders? Those responsible should offer us details, not just what’s on the program.”

Burma assumed its first chairmanship of Asean in early 2014, 17 years after joining the bloc. The former military regime was previously exempted from the rotating chairmanship because of its alienated status among the international community.

Asean member states include Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The chairmanship will be transferred to Malaysia in January 2015.