Army Chief Says He’ll Ask Security Ministers to Be More Open With Media

By Moe Myint 21 December 2018

YANGON—Myanmar military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing promised the Myanmar Press Council at a meeting in Naypyidaw on Friday that he would encourage all 14 state and regional security and border affairs ministers to answer journalists’ questions if they have relevant information.

Press Council member U Myint Kyaw, who attended Friday’s meeting with the senior general, confirmed his vow to The Irrawaddy. Speaking by phone, U Myint Kyaw said Press Council representatives urged the Army chief and other senior military officers to provide greater access to information and to provide security guards to ensure journalists’ safety in conflict zones. He said they also urged the officers not to immediately launch court cases against journalists, but rather to lodge complaints with the Press Council—as required by the Media Law—if the Army felt that news coverage of military-related issues was incorrect.

U Myint Kyaw said, “Although Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing did not mention a specific timeframe in regards to the spokespersons for the border affairs ministers, he said he will encourage them immediately.”

Based on the Army chief’s responses, U Myint Kyaw explained that sometimes information linked to armed conflicts is available, but border affairs ministers refrain from revealing it to journalists as they are concerned about misunderstandings appearing in press reports, adding that their main concern is with not providing information that exceeds the scope of their authority. U Myint Kyaw called to mind the Army chief’s stated view that media news coverage should prioritize accuracy over speed. However, the military chief, rather than discussing the establishment of proper communication channels between media and senior military officers, prefers to continue holding dialogues with the Press Council. Another will be held in Yangon next month.

“The Press Council has regular engagements with the military, but there is no proper channel between media organizations and the Army,” said U Myint Kyaw.

Press Council member Daw Thu Zar said she discussed whether Military Intelligence officials conducted surveillance of reporters at protest events and human rights rallies in urban areas, saying reporters felt unsafe. The commander-in-chief simply answered that officials carry out such activities as they are assigned to do, and claimed they would not harm reporters.

Another Press Council member, Tha Lwun Zaung Htet, handed a letter to the Army chief demanding the unconditional release of Reuters journalists Ko Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were imprisoned for seven years on a widely condemned conviction of violating national security laws. In a related case, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing was jailed for one year as a “hostile witness” after telling the court the reporters had been set up. Daw Thu Zar said the Army chief listened patiently to the Press Council members’ complaints before simply answering that intervening in the judicial system could be regarded as contempt of court.

Right after the meeting, the military announced that in order to accelerate its peace dialogues with non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, including the Laiza, Kachin State-based Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), it would halt operations at five of its commands, excepting northern Rakhine. Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun was quoted by local media as saying that operations would continue in northern Rakhine State, as the Arakan Rohingya Salivation Army was still active in the area. He was quoted as saying that peace talks will continue with the AA despite a series of clashes between it and the Tatmadaw in recent months.

The meeting was the first between the newly elected Press Council, now in its second term, and Army chief Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.