Burma Media Complain SEA Games Access Is Restricted

By Lawi Weng & Sanay Lin 6 December 2013

RANGOON — As the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) got underway this week, local Burmese media groups say access to events has been restricted, limiting their ability to cover the landmark sporting event.

Although the opening ceremony is not until Dec. 11, some SEA Games events began in Naypyidaw on Wednesday. It is Burma’s first time hosting the regional games, and the occasion offers the country a chance to show that it can successfully organize international events, ahead of its debut chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2014.

Reporters based in Rangoon trying to find their way up to Naypyidaw, where the majority of events are taking place, have been faced not only with hotel rooms price hikes, but with bureaucratic obstacles.

Many journalists, as they were instructed, applied ahead of time to the Ministry of Information for laminated passes to access SEA Games events. But reporters and photographers trying to enter venues were told this week they must also obtain separate permission from the National Olympic Council and the Sports Ministry for “security reasons.”

Photojournalist Hein Htet told The Irrawaddy the system of registration was overly complicated, and that even media with the correct approval were denied access to one Chinlone event in Naypyidaw.

“They let in the first group of journalists who arrived early, but those who arrived late, they did not let them inside [the venue],” he said.

Additional permission is also required for media to enter training facilities, the different stadiums and the games’ opening and closing ceremonies.

Ko Ko, chairman of the Yangon Media Group, complained the authorities did not appear to be coordinated in organizing the games.

“They do not have good communication between ministries,” he said. “This is why our reporters have problems regarding the issue of registration cards. If they say these restrictions are for security, they need to make an announcement earlier about what reporters need to do to register.”

Ko Ko warned that if foreign media receive the same treatment, the authorities’ mismanagement of the games could do reputational damage to the country.

“If they even do this to foreign media, they need to give proper messages,” he said. “They do not know how to treat the media well. We will have more problems in 2014 for the Asean events.”